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At Large Oh no, the news!

At Large Oh no, the news!

Screwing his courage to the sticking place, ARN's Matthew JC. Powell prepares to bear the guilt of his great quell . . .

It's an odd quirk of human nature that people seriously don't seem to enjoy hearing good news. I used to think it was a matter of choice made on my side of the media fence, but I can now see that it's driven more by demand for misery than anything else.

Examples of what I'm talking about are plentiful: a person can do great and wonderful things their entire life and it will barely rate a blip in people's attention spans. The second they die a horrible death in twisted wreckage they're news. Diplomats can negotiate a thousand tricky and tense treaties through their career, but the world will not know their name until they are standing on the brink of armed combat, Exocet missiles pointed at a small nation in the Gulf region.

Likewise in IT. Companies enjoy success all the time: technologies are adopted as standards; products are deployed widely through large corporations; and win/ win partnerships are forged that benefit not only the companies involved, but the entire industry. With the exception of this paper, do you ever read about these things?

Hardly. The apocalyptic advent of the millennium bomb, the tragic slide of Intel, Microsoft squirming under scrutiny, and companies heading inevitably towards self-inflicted bankruptcy are what makes the news pages. One IT editor I won't name once said to me: "We never cover Apple unless something bad happens." So that company could sign a deal to sell tens of thousands of computers into NSW schools and it wouldn't be mentioned but if the CEO wore an unattractive shirt at a conference it would get in there somehow.

My argument was always that this was a media-driven thing, that the press wanted headlines that would grab people, and that we as a news-consuming public were being manipulated. I thought, foolishly, that the press could change its ways, present a more positive view of the world, and the public would be grateful.

But now I wonder. Most conversations I have with people in the industry seem to start with "so how's Company A going these days? I hear they're just about out of money", or "I hear Company B is having personnel troubles - seems their bugle boy is rather too boogie-woogie for some people's liking". That kind of thing. It's gossip, scurrilous rumour, hearsay and the devil's radio.

Even outside IT, people prefer to look on the darker underside of life. As this goes to press I'm deeply immersed in the Sydney Film Festival, seeing three or four exceptional films every day. Immediately before the festival started, I went to a preview screening of Godzilla. What do you think most people I know have been asking about? No, not the brilliant and moving arthouse films from Cuba or Canada, but the appalling lizard flick.

I would only have nice things to say about the films of the festival, so my friends have deliberately avoided the topic, preferring to hear me slam the giant reptile.

Obviously they, and you, want the dirt, the buzz, the skinny. You want to hear about things going wrong. You want to hear stuff that someone somewhere doesn't want you to hear.

Fair enough, I'm here to serve you, so I am willing to provide you with what you want. We'll soon be starting a gossip page in ARN, and I'll be compiling that with the help of our able team of news gatherers. Naturally we'll check every fact, confirm every source and be careful not to offend too much, but we'll also be ruthless in our pursuit of the ugly truth.

Problem: I was brought up on the premise that if you don't have anything nice to say, you shouldn't say anything at all. I can't bring myself to repeat gossip and rumour without first balancing it with sweetness and light.

So here's some good news: ARN's own Ellen Cresswell had a great long weekend in Brisbane last week, where it was 34 degrees and toasty; The Sweet Hereafter and The Apostle are both exceptional films, well worth the time you spend watching them; Apple's had a couple of good quarters and even has a coherent OS strategy; and Edge Technology has successfully grown from a two-person operation in Sydney to a serious player internationally and has just broken into North America.

There. I've said all that good stuff now, so I don't feel so bad about my imminent experiment in calumniation. How worthwhile it turns out to be, of course, depends on you good folks. I'll be relying on you to feed the gossip page either through me or one of my hard-working colleagues.

And of course, should the mood possess you, I'd still love to hear anything nice you have to say.


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