A Y2K reporter speaks (from csy2k)

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I have noted the large (and rapidly increasing) number of posts about the tone and quality of Y2K coverage in mainstream media over the past month. When I think back 12-18 months, posters were asking "When will they start covering this?" The few magazines (like mine) that made it an early issue were all a reader could get and I could, if nothing else, point out why thatwas then the case.

Now that the long hoped-for mainstream penetration has occurred, most posters seem to be questioning why the coverage is so anodyne. Again, some of the answers may be more clear to someone who works in business journalism.

Note: for the DBers who are eagerly anticipating their vindication - you aren't going to like this post much. For that minority of posters who believe that no foreign example can be applied to the US - you might as well stop reading now. Y'all have a real nice day, now! Missin' you already...(Note to self: what, exactly, is the point of aiming irony at Americans?)

So, based on what UK and European hacks are writing on their own patches and, to some extent, on the Time, Newsweek, WSJ, NYTimes and Washington Post coverage I read, here are a few things to keep in mind when evaluating the coverage.

Today's writers aren't starting from scratch. In 1996, if you wanted to cover millennium issues, there were no studies, no surveys, damn few industry working groups and the only way to find out anything at all was to go straight to the project team leaders. (That's still the best way for single-company status checks, in my view) This was not a good way to build up an industry, sector or regional picture in a hurry. (Hacks do everything in a hurry. It's a caffeine thing.) These interview subjects were not people with a highly developed sense of overview. As a consequence, writers were forced to ask some very large and compelling questions without any strong feel for the answers. In 1996, you could plausibly ask: "Is this going to work?", "Will the fundamentals (power, transport, phones) get finished?"

Today it's different. Almost every mature industry has formed working groups with common schedules and plans. Business writers do, generally, know people on these committees, even if we can't quote them for print. We can find out their mood and their concerns. We can ask CEOs and senior suits what the score is at their companies because they now know. Even if we don't always trust them, we can find out how well they understand their problems and how their peer companies rate their chances. Within the IT iron triangle, power, transport and phone companies are leading the way in disclosure. A reporter cannot call the press office without being deluged by status reports and offers of interviews with the resident Y2K guru.

In short, we can assemble enough data to form a view on the results quite quickly. Having done that, we can begin pointing the stories towards what we consider relevant. If the implication isn't clear, I'll spell it out. Most hacks who cover the business side of this story in detail have formed the view that it's not going to be all that bad. They are more interested in where and when the blips in company results and plans are going to arrive. That's the only set of consequences that looks plausible to them.

In my case, I've been downgrading my opinion of the seriousness of Y2K almost every month since late 1996. Every time I issued another editorial warning about how bad it could be, another two dozen good progress reports from key industries hit my desk. We have reached the point where, in a country with 500+ business turning over #20 million or more, I can only find a handful that are still under serious pressure to remediate. Scotland, in my view, isn't substantially ahead of Germany, England, Switzerland, Ireland or France. Work on the problem has simply moved ahead of this newsgroup's terms of argument.

Also, and contrary to some of the views expressed in this group, journalists (business hacks in particular) do pay a lot of attention to the doomsayers. We love the contrarian view, regardless of its merits, because an argument is a story. But, as time goes on, there isn't enough strength in their arguments nor are there enough people examining their views and agreeing with them for thei view to come to dominate. Let's be very specific here: no major political or business figure with industry-specific knowledge or quality advisors has come out on the DBers' side. They've been making the same arguments (ad nauseum) for at least a year and a half. No neutral figure who has examined them has taken up their cause.

For a hack, that makes the choices very clear: join the cult and hope you're right, do as Declan does and maintain the most neutral possible policy while reporting the process, or assume there's no story in imminent doom and concentrate on specific company/sectoral/regional/national progress. I'm sure you can see for yourselves which choices most hacks have made.

Summing up, it's very, very unlikely you'll see much more serious press time given to TEOTWAWKI stories, particularly from the business sector. In our terms, that story isn't moving towards credibility. Having said that, we're only a couple of warnings/meltdowns away...

I could try to footnote this with some examination of the "evidence" put forward by PM and some others. You'll forgive me, I hope, if I consider that cause lost. I hope this helps in your analysis of media activity - I'll do my best to follow up any replies.



Michael McCormack

Editor, Insider Technology


-- Flint (flintc@mindspring.com), February 02, 1999


Flint, are you aware of what the general population thinks of journalists. Let's see starting from the bottom, lawers, journalists used car salesmen. Please give me a break. Most of these folks graduated from a liberal leaning (socialist) journalism school.


-- Ray (ray@totacc.com), February 02, 1999.

Ray, I just gotta ask you:

If his investigations had led him to the conclusion that y2k is going to be very very bad, would you dismiss him for the same good reasons? If not, why not?

-- Flint (flintc@mindspring.com), February 02, 1999.


A journalist is a journalist is a journalist is a journalist. I am talking about the print media journalist. There are a few good ones but they are few and far between.

Have you ever talked to some one who has been interviewed by one of these BOZOS and heard what they had to say about how the interview was aired.


-- Ray (ray@totacc.com), February 02, 1999.

Hi, Flint,

Sorry, I'm still not convinced, no matter how many happy face stickers are pasted on these PR releases and press handouts. I got the following from a British government Y2K site today, dated January 21, 1999, and I find lots of problems with it. Is this the sort of thing you've been seeing from public and private bodies re Y2K?



. . .


Action 2000 and Regulators report on Bug readiness of key national infrastructure services

21 January, 1999

The UKs six key infrastructure services are well on the way to beating the Millennium Bug, British business leaders will be told today. ["Will be told." Well, they could be told I'm the Queen of the May but it wouldn't be true. OG]

The water, gas, electricity, oil, telecoms and financial industries will all report on their ability to operate business as usual over the millennium.

A world-first initiative by Action 2000, the Governments Millennium Bug Campaign, brought bodies responsible for each of the six sectors together to present to the National Infrastructure Forum (NIF). ["World-first." Beware of any statement containing "world" followed by a hyphen, e.g., world-class.]

The NIF meeting in London aims to inform businesses about the UKs essential services and their progress in tackling the Bug. [It "aims," does it? Very wobbly. Much more firm if it would say, "The NIF meeting in London will inform. . ."]

And today the Rt. Hon. Margaret Beckett MP, the Cabinet Minister responsible for the Bug, together with an audience of over 250 private and public sector businesses and organisations, will hear that the six have the Bug under control. ["Will hear." Not that they actually DO have the bug under control, only that these people "will hear" that it is. Wobbly again. OG]

Don Cruickshank, chairman of Action 2000, said: "With just under 11 months to go, results show that the key infrastructure providers are well underway to being fully prepared." ["Well underway." Depends on your definition, I guess. Below it says these folks are average at this point. Bit late in the day to be average. OG]

A colour code - from red through amber to blue - was introduced to provide one standard to measure progress across all the sectors.

Cruickshank said: "The initial tier, of key six sectors, is in the amber category. This means that although risks remain, robust plans are in place to manage them. By April, when the NIF next meets, I expect reports to show much more blue." [Blue = "The assessment has not identified any risks of material disruption to the infrastructure process." You note this best-case scenario description doesn't say there WON'T be any material disruption, just that no risks have been identified. Can't find any, in other words, doesn't mean they don't exist, just can't find any. Why can't they say "no risks exist"? Wobbly again.]

The NIF will also report on second and third tier essential services, including the health, emergency and postal services, food, transport (rail, air, sea, road), broadcasting, local government, justice, benefit payment, taxation, meteorological office and education at regular intervals. [Damn it, chaps, this is BRITAIN, we have to have the weather in a higher priority category! I don't see pubs at all. OG]

As a first step to delivering credible and robust statements from the first tier sectors, Action 2000 identified the appropriate organisation in each sector. [There's that "robust" word again. Must be trendy.] These bodies commission independent assessments and disclose their findings. The bodies for the six reporting today are:

OFWAT - water, OFFER - electricity, OFGAS - gas, DTI Oil & Gas Directorate - fuel for transport, OFTEL - telecoms, Financial Services Authority - financial services.

Action 2000 stressed the importance of the assessment being undertaken independently from the actual delivery of the services. In the case of the six key sectors reporting interim findings at the NIF today, it is mainly industry regulators who are the appropriate bodies. They reported on the progress their sectors have made to date and detailed the independent assessment activity taking place in their sectors. [Wait, let me read that again. . .]

In order to ensure consistency of approach and enable comparisons between sectors, Action 2000 introduced a traffic light colour coding. Reporting bodies will use the colour coding system to chart the progress of the providers of UK infrastructure, identify problem areas and, over time, build public confidence in the work that is underway. ["Build public confidence." Aha, now we see what this is all about. Reporting on progress will build this confidence. Do they mean false sense of security, rather than confidence?" OG]

The colour coding is:

None, White - Unable to form assessment with the present level of information.

Poor, Red - The assessment indicates that there is a severe risk of material disruption to infrastructure processes and that timely rectification may not be possible.

Average, Amber - The assessment indicates that there is some risk of material disruption to infrastructure processes, but that there is an agreed containment plan to rectify shortcomings. [Please note this is AVERAGE. OG]

Neutral, Blue - The assessment has not identified any risks of material disruption to the infrastructure process. [You note they didn't use the universal traffic light color for "safe to go," green. Perhaps because blue really means "go, but cautiously and still keep looking both ways"? OG]

Cruickshank said: "The companies and sector representatives are to be congratulated on their approach. [Yeah, nice approach, pretty colors, but where's the beef? OG]

"Action 2000 is facilitating this work and has provided guidance for the assessments in terms of the rigour of the process, but the results we see coming out of the NIF today are a joint effort and show a highly unusual degree of co-operation. [Huh? My brain is about worn out, anyone want to translate the rest of this?] We will continue to disclose results from infrastructure providers, including those in later tranches, to inform industry and the public.

"Sectors will be telling their own stories; Action 2000 will pull the results together to form an overall picture of this continuous disclosure. We will also ensure the news gets out via our Web site and subsequent meetings such as todays.

"When the Forum next meets in April, I expect the situation to have changed significantly, with further assessment activity confirming the transition from amber to blue."

In addition to the six essential services under initial scrutiny, the National Infrastructure Forum is also assessing progress amongst other sectors and public services that are critical to both the public and businesses. Disclosure from tranches two and three will be made throughout 1999 and include:

health service, emergency services, food, transport (rail, air, sea, road), broadcasting, local government, postal services, justice, benefit payment, taxation, meteorological office, education, Cruickshank said: "There is a significant number of key services that constitute the building blocks of the national infrastructure and which the public expect to operate normally, regardless of whether they are in public or private ownership.

"The goal is business as usual during the critical period. There is still a lot of work to be done before we can say this with full confidence, but I am clear that the NIF process now underway is an effective route to delivering the information that businesses and the public require."

[As we say in my part of Yorkshire, what a load of codswallop. OG]

Cut and pasted by

-- Old Git (anon@spamproblems.com), February 02, 1999.

Flint with everything considered (systemic, global, embedded chips, and all of the inaccurate information from the government) do you or have you constructed a null hypothesis yet? Which would also include an alternate hypothesis for testing purposes. I have seen many of your threads and have an understanding of the way you feel on some issues however what is your gut saying to you? I must say I have a hard time flaming some one I respect and you seem to be a prudent personTman

Time Will Tell?

-- Tman (Tman@WhyTooKay.com), February 02, 1999.

Tmam, my gut won't hold still (but it's a *lot* smaller than when I learned about all this). Some days I feel desperate and attack WalMart or Sam's like a madman. Other days I feel fine, and wonder why'n hell my house looks like a fortified warehouse, is this necessary? Damn, how many seeds should I get? Where will I put them? Have I forgetten anything critical? Thank God I don't have any money, I wouldn't know how to store it, you know?

There are certainly times when I'd like to decide yes, real bad, or no, speed bump. I'd feel a lot more comfortable if I could, but every day is a new roller coaster. I feel like in 11 months, someone is going to fire a bullet into the room. I have 11 months to decide where to stand, and no clue where the bullet will be going.

And oh yes, I have a job to do also. Gotta concentrate. Focus. Bear down. Where was I?

-- Flint (flintc@mindspring.com), February 02, 1999.

Flint, Thanks for pulling up and posting that piece. Mr. McCormack represents himself very competently through the written word and his explanation is rational. But like DeJager, as far as I'm concerned his outlook is equivalent to a Valium + Prozac induced happy trance state. Really, his explanation is like saying "We business writers are a bunch of lemmings and we're moving forward and Declan is a lemming who's running 90 degrees from us. We can't see over the ridge, but the hucksters upon whom our livelihood depends have assured us it's a ridge and not a cliff and we are going with that story." Flint, I understand what McCormack is saying, but everyone should understand that he is explaining the journalistic approach and he is not augering for the public to let their guard down. Flint, I still don't comprehend the need for secrecy of facts showing the good news. If the panic alone could bring down the world financial system, should we really be so coy with the facts? All these sudden patronizing reassurances remind me of the line from "The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas" to wit: "I know when someone's pi**ing on my boot and telling me it's raining." But Flint, seriously, thanks for posting this article and keep up the good work. Every message from the front line has information which can be mined.

-- Puddintame (dit@dot.com), February 02, 1999.

In answer to flint, the undying asshole pollyanna:

Here is why one should not take thei 'aaleged' editor from the UK seriously....Because he is a freaking idiot as provide in the EVIDENCE below, moron.

Y2K Expert - UK Big Business In Trouble Over Year 2000

February 01, 1999: 2:35 p.m. ET

LONDON, ENGLAND (NB) -- By Steve Gold, Newsbytes. In a speech made on Friday at the IT Business Trends conference in London, Robin Guenier, the executive director of Taskforce 2000, the industry- funded Y2K agency, said that, contrary to received wisdom, big business in the UK is lagging in its efforts to fix the Y2K problem. According to Guenier, who is known for being honest about the Year 2000 issue, Newsbytes notes, there is increasing evidence of this being the case. "For example, most large businesses said in 1996 that the job would be complete. There were, they said, good reasons for this -- not least, the need to run their new systems in the real world throughout 1999 so as to go into 2000 with complete confidence that they were fully robust," he said, adding that he knows of no large business that achieved that situation. "Indeed, most of those that are making good progress tell me that the job is considerably more difficult and is taking much longer than they expected," he explained, adding the question as to where does that leave any businesses that are not making good progress? "To determine what was really happening, together with the lawyers, Dibb Lupton Alsop, we commissioned from the independent and respected research firm, Business Strategies, a study of the progress being made by the top 1,000 companies listed by Dunn and Bradstreet," he went on to say. According to Guenier, the work was done last month. The results, he noted, were appalling. "For example, 16 percent of respondents had not completed their central IT (information technology) inventory (which was worse for embedded software). And 69 percent had yet to complete the initial remediation of their central IT systems -- a job many experts agree should have been done in 1998 to meet the deadline," he said. Guenier told the audience that the most disturbing evidence of all comes from Action 2000, the British government's own Millennium Bug agency, which said in late January that "research, based on questionnaires completed by 75 percent of the FTSE 500... established that in no way support that conclusion." "For example, 20 percent of FTSE 500 respondents had not yet completed an inventory -- in other words, they had hardly started. And 45 percent had done their inventory but seemed to have made little further progress. I say 'seemed' because the questionnaire was insufficiently rigorous. These results are, if anything, worse than those from Business Strategies," he said. "So, what's going on? Why would a government body deliberately mislead us? If hundreds of big businesses are lagging, that fact surely needs maximum publicity? To misrepresent what is happening is contrary to common sense -- and to Tony Blair's own injunction at a Year 2000 event earlier this week `to be straight with the public about the state of progress,'" he added. Guenier went on to say that there seems to be two possibilities. "Either they don't understand the issues -- in which case, they urgently need better advice. Or they believe that openness could lead to public panic," he noted. According to Guenier, there is some evidence of the latter explanation. For example, in December, Action 2000's managing director referred to the possibility that it might be sensible for people to anticipate possible problems by, for example, "having a judicious amount of surplus food in their kitchen cupboards." "Instead of using this as a basis for informed debate, she was quickly gagged by the Cabinet Office -- and we have heard little from her since," he said. "The reality is that, if we were in the last quarter of 1999, fear of panic might be justified. But now the priority has to be to get people to recognize that not enough is being done -- and to get them to work on fixing the problem," he added. http://www.cnnfn.com/digitaljam/newsbytes/125558.html

There has never been a pollyanna that flint would not kiss their ass even though they NEVER discuss evidence at all. That is flint-o's stock and trade.

Here is the magnoficent blind 'editor':

"I can only find a handful that are still under serious pressure to remediate. "

And here is Guinier:

"The results, he noted, were appalling."

Te 'editor' can see any problem at all and guinier finds that the results of the survey APPALLING.

Again, flint just disregards the evidence and posts more inept pollyannas. We expect no more and we get less and less every day from flint.


-- Paul Milne (fedinfo@halifax.com), February 02, 1999.


I really relate to the bullet analogy! That's exactly how I feel also!

-- shivermetimbers (zerodegrees@brrrrrr.com), February 02, 1999.

Flint commented:

" I feel like in 11 months, someone is going to fire a bullet into the room. I have 11 months to decide where to stand, and no clue where the bullet will be going. "

This is the MOST stupid comment I have ever read about y2k. Preparation is INSURANCE. If you prepare properly you won't even have to go into the room.

Flint, your posts are total disinformation. Don't BS the forum.


-- Ray (ray@totacc.com), February 03, 1999.

"over the top, lads, chin up, that's the spirit--HQ says the Huns out of ammo and this assault will be the last..." (Oh dear, they're all dead! Whatever was HQ thinking? Jolly bad show, that)

-- Handful of Dust (waugh@evelyn.com), February 03, 1999.

Thank-you Flint I must admit I too feel the same way and it sucks!Life was so good before y2k. The company I work for last year because of a sell off had to buy the stock I owned in them and they payed dearly. Lets just say I am or was set. now?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????? Tman...

-- Tman (Tman@bullet.com), February 03, 1999.


If you're saying that widespread, responsible preparation will reduce the likelihood of panic and ease the transition period, I agree with you.

If you're saying that public preparation will somehow make the code bugs go away, I fail to see the connection.

I feel threatened by bad code. I can do everything within my power to insulate myself from its effects. But this doesn't fix any code at all.

-- Flint (flintc@mindspring.com), February 03, 1999.

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