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internet reporter's guide

a charming tongue-in-cheek "reporter's guide to the internet". 
pass along to your favorite clueless reporter writing
about the information superduperhighway. don't recall seeing
it posted here, but was written by a past cypherpunk contributer...
Gutmann is also acknowledged by PRZ as putting in major amounts
of work into PGP..

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From: [email protected] (Peter Gutmann)
Newsgroups: alt.censorship,alt.internet.media-coverage,comp.org.eff.talk
Subject: The Internet: A short guide for reporters and journalists
Date: 6 Aug 1995 12:32:53 GMT

[The following was originally posted to the nz.general newsgroup in mid-June.
 Two papers/magazines expressed vague interest in publishing it, but I haven't
 heard from them since, for reasons which may become obvious when you read
 this.  If anyone wants to publish this anywhere (Time Magazine, for example
 :-), feel free to do so.  One NZ-specific thing you may need to know is that
 Trevor "I don't give a shit about your network" Rogers is our version of
 Senator Exon who predates Exon by about 6 months and is considerably more
 clueless (and foul-mouthed) than Exon.  You can find some of his more
 notorious quotes in the EFF quote collection]
                               THE INTERNET
                 A short guide for reporters and journalists
Recently there have been a lot of reports about a generally insignificant
aspect of the Internet, namely the availability of erotica and other
information via computer.  The reason for this is quite obvious - this is one
of the hottest news topics currently available.  People get upset, tempers
fray, and Trevor Rogers gets to have his face in the paper again.  In short,
stories about the evil Internet are "in".
This document is intended as a guide for those who would like to join the ranks
of the other reporters and journalists who have been so successful in the past
when reporting about the Internet.  It is intended to save you the hassle of
having to reinvent the wheel when you prepare your report, and to familiarise
you with certain conventions which need to be followed when reporting on
anything to do with the net.  You'll be amazed at how simple it is.
The Internet provides fascinating subject material for reporters.  There's no
need to perform any research, you get to cover a "hot topic", and the message
is so simple that even politicians can understand it (or at least know how to
make political gain from it).
  All successful stories on the Internet are based on the following fact:
    The Internet is a piece of high-technology whose single goal is to get porn
    and bomb recipes into the hands of children.
  Don't worry about the details.  As will shortly be shown, you may have to
  adapt this message slightly for your target audience.  However, since your
  average reader won't really know the difference between the Internet, a
  dialup BBS, and a standalone computer, you don't need to go to any special
  effort to distinguish between these very different technologies.  Generalise.
  If something applies to one area, it applies to all areas, whether that's
  physically possible or not.  The message is the same, and provided people
  read/watch/listen to it, you know you've done your job.
- - PORN
  Even while you were still at journalism school, you learned that sex sells.
  You also know that sex itself doesn't sell, but stories about "comsumers" of
  sexual material do.  This also provides you with an excuse to show pictures
  of naked women (purely to document what's available, of course) and yet still
  hold the moral high ground.
  The Internet, like all communications networks, was designed solely to
  communicate pornographic images.  Of course, the average user has absolutely
  no idea how to do this, or how to perform the complex decoding and image
  manipulation necessary to view these images.  As a reporter, it is your duty
  to inform the public on how this is done.  Our moral guardians will be
  appalled at how easily you can get access to the information, anyone with a
  computer will be busy trying to duplicate your feat, and everyone else will
  be too busy staring at the pictures to do anything else.
  Make porn the main theme of your story.  If you're doing a story on the
  Usenet, pick something with the name "sex" in it (even if it's a sexual abuse
  counselling service - if it has "sex" in the name it's got to be bad), and
  concentrate exclusively on that.  Ignore the fact that there are over 11,000
  other interest areas available on the Usenet.  Don't even waste your time
  with them - all people ever talk about there is books, films, art, hobbies,
  cars, health, politics, financial issues, current events, religion,
  literature, and so on.  Who on earth would read a story about that?
  Concentrate only on the stuff which pulls in the readers/viewers.
  Concentrate on porn.
  Virtually any journalist will know that the majority of the population are
  somewhat technophobic.  If you want to hold the readers attention, you can't
  go wrong when you use this fact to your advantage.  Let's take a simple
    An American, a Japanese, and a New Zealander have a new technology
    explained to them.  The American says "Great, we can use this to hold the
    evil Commies in check.  I wonder if we can use it as a special effect in
    the latest Schwarzenegger film?".  The Japanese says "Interesting.  We can
    make a killing from this.  I wonder how we can make it smaller and easier
    to use".  The New Zealander says "Appalling.  This will destroy
    civilization.  How can we ban it?".
  As a journalist, all you need to do is follow this basic premise - that all
  new technology is evil and dangerous - and you just can't go wrong.  To
  support your claims, pick a group of self-proclaimed experts and consult them
  frequently.  The right educational counsellors ("Only natural wooden toys
  will stop your child becoming an axe murderer"), the right psychologists
  ("The constant contact with technology leads to an inner loneliness.
  Therefore the current generations lack of communications skills is solely due
  to the invention of the telephone"), and law enforcement people ("We have no
  idea who did it, or why, or how, or when, but we do know that they got the
  information off the Internet").  Remember that *you* don't actually need to
  understand what it is you're reporting, because most of your audience won't
  either.  As long as they buy the paper or watch the program, you'll know
  you've done your job.
  The most important point, however, is that, due to the thorough work of your
  colleagues, the reader/viewer already has certain expectations for any story
  about the net.  Whenever they hear the word "Internet", they immediately know
  what the coverage will be on: the dangers of computers, porn, pedophiles, and
  bomb recipes.  Even if they remember nothing else, the viewers will know that
  porn was involved.  Whenever any story about the internet is published or
  broadcast, the viewers wil automatically expect it to be about porn, which
  makes your job so much easier.
Journalists are like fishermen, they select the appropriate bait depending on
the intended prey.  Although the usual collection of porn, pedophiles, and
other paraphernalia without which no report on the net can be complete provide
a wide foundation for virtually any kind of story you care to dream up, you can
give your report that final polish by specifically targeting a particular
group.  For example:
If you're writing for a right-wing audience:
  Your readers/viewers will dislike the net anyway - just look at the people
  using it, these long-haired hippie wierdos, dole bludgers and students,
  should all go out and get a real job or something.  You don't really need to
  cover this area too deeply.  The best way to get your audience hooked is to
  tell them about the horrible perversions they can run into on the net.  Just
  think, the person you're exchanging mail with could actually be a *screaming
  bender*, and you wouldn't even know about it!  There are actually areas of
  the net where gay people can meet, and talk.  Your audience *must* be
  informed of this dangerous technology.  Your message is therefore:
    The Internet is a piece of high-technology whose single goal is to allow
    perverted gays and lesbians to get to your children.
  Once your readers realise that it's possible for gays and lesbians to use the
  net just like everyone else, and that they can talk about virtually anything
  (my God, I mean, *anything*) then you know your article has been a success.
If you're writing for a left-wing audience:
  As with a right-wing audience, you have an advantage here that your left-wing
  readers/viewers will be suspicious of the net because the government is
  involved with it.  The internet is simply a bridgehead for a nationwide
  police database, identity cards, and the spectre of Big Brother.  Although it
  can be hard to introduce the usual morals panic into a story on general
  technophobia, we're sure you can do it.  Your general message is therefore:
    The Internet is a piece of high-technology whose single goal is to allow
    the government to set up a Big Brother-like nationwide computerised
    monitoring system
If you're writing for a radical feminist audience:
  This, along with the nations moral guardians, is your ideal target audience.
  The internet is run mostly by men and in the past has been used mostly by
  men.  The mere existence of the evil internet is therefore solely the fault
  of all males.  Your message is therefore:
    The Internet is a piece of high-technology whose single goal is to allow
    the emotionally crippled male gender to communicate pictures of their
    female victims and therefore increase the incidence of sexual abuse and
  Remember that certain ideologies of the radical feminist movement have to be
  brought up in each story.  These are:
  - The goal of all male-dominated technology is the oppression of womyn.  All
    technology, even if it's not obvious how, is created to oppress womyn.
  - Pornography is the theory, rape is the practice.  Any man who sees even a
    glimpse of bare flesh is instantly converted into a rapist.
  - Womyn never look at any porn, not even at pictures of naked men, and never
    produce porn for other women to consume.  Every counterexample to this
    claim is either invented or the product of male brainwashing.
  Try and find a number of womyn to support your views.  Interview lots of
  sexual abuse victims, even if there's no connection whatsoever to the
  Internet, because graphic abuse stories are a great way to arouse sympathy
  for your cause, as has been ably demonstrated in US Senate hearings.  If you
  ever even show a man as part of your story, find some pimply, greasy-haired,
  low-IQ type whose most intelligent comment is a Beavis-and-Butthead-like "Huh
  huh huh".
If you're writing for the "moral majority":
  This is the perfect target audience.  Your viewers/readers will be
  conservative, right-wing, and won't understand the technological and social
  issues involved.  Tell them anything.  Since you control the media, noone
  will ever correct you (except perhaps a few long-haired hippies calling
  talkback shows, but who listens to talkback anyway?).  If a 15-year-old runs
  away from home, they've been kidnapped by an internet pedophile ring.  Every
  time you turn on your computer, snuff movies appear on the screen.  A shadowy
  gang of spies is hiding US nuclear weapons secrets inside dirty pictures and
  sending them to the middle east.  There are more pedophiles on the net in the
  US than the population of some countries.  The middle east has an appalling
  pedophiles-on-the-net problem, even though there is no Internet in the middle
  east.  All these stories, and more, have already been run by your colleagues
  in and outside the country, or have been reported by politicians.  If people
  will swallow this, they'll swallow anything.  Although you have a pretty much
  blank slate on which to vent your creativity, extensive research has shown
  that you get the best results if you make your message more or less:
    The Internet is a piece of high-technology whose single goal is to allow
    every imaginable form of depravity and filth into every home in New
As with any story, there are a few traps you have to be careful to avoid.
- - Never let the reader know what else is available on the net.  You make your
  living from the fact that you feed information to people.  If these people
  find out that they can get the same information faster, easier, and much more
  cheaply, off the net, you'll lose your monopoly, and, sooner or later, your
  job.  By manipulating your reader's emotions (shock, disbelief, loathing),
  you can make sure that few people will ever see the full richness of the
  information available on the net, and ensure that they keep coming to you for
- - Never mention the fact that virtually everybody who is anybody is on the net.
  If people find out that things like Time Magazine, MTV, the New York Stock
  Exchange, and Winona Ryder are all directly accessible via the net, their
  image of the internet will be shattered.
- - Never mention the fact that there are no commercials and no censorship on the
  net.  Your sponsors are hard at work turning peoples TV watching and
  newspaper reading into an almost coninuous stream of commercials.  If people
  found out that they can sit on the internet for 15 hours at a time without
  seeing a single ad for womens sanitary products, your TV station (and
  therefore your job) is in trouble.
There are certain topics you should never touch on in your reporting.  These
- - Technology.  Noone cares about this.  Your audience doesn't want to know
  about the technology, otherwise they'd have to actually think about the
  issues involved.  And anyway, when did you become an engineer or sociologist?
  The best reports on the internet are filed by reporters who refuse to even
  use a computer and have no idea what the internet is, since they're the ones
  least likely to be hampered by any facts.
- - Education.  Never mention the fact that studies have shown that
  children who use the internet spend less time in front of the TV, do better
  at school, have better writing skills, and are much more likely to get a job
  in the future.  Scare them away from the internet.  We've got a welfare
  state, they'll be looked after in some way.  Besides, you'll be able to do
  more stories on future street kids that way.
- - Useful applications of the internet.  If you find out that the President of
  the United States is on the internet, don't even think about suggesting the
  Prime Minister does the same.  Politics and computers just don't mix, as has
  been shown repeatedly by one ex-National Party politician.  Even if the
  President talks to his staff via email, and they all run around with laptops,
  that's just an American fad.  New Zealanders don't need that sort of thing.
- - Other media.  Always call it "the Internet", whether what you're reporting on
  occurred on the internet, a private network, a standalone computer, or in
  your imagination.  If necessary, edit the pictures you show to support your
  story.  When people hear a computer horror story, they expect it to be about
  the internet, not based on something you saw last night on X-Files.
As a reporter, you've become accustomed to having your say while everyone else
listens.  On the internet, this is very different.  When one of your
masterpieces of creative reporting is published or broadcast, a potential
audience of thirty million people will pick it to pieces.  With a single story,
you can alienate fifty, a hundred thousand members of your audience in one
stroke.  Never use the internet yourself, or publish any form of email address.
You're not paid to handle feedback, only to write stories.  Heavens, if you
listened to people correcting your story, you might actually have to report the
Therefore, write whatever you want, but never give your readers a chance to
reply.  By the time NZ Post has finally delivered their mail to you, you'll
already be halfway through your next report on baby-eating pedophiles on the
net, and can safely ignore any feedback from the previous one.
Horror stories about the internet have already helped hundreds of your
colleagues through dry spells in the flow of news.  Make sure you preserve this
valuable resource for future generations of journalists.  Don't report more
than you need to.  A short, zero-content missive in which you mention the word
"pedophiles" in every second sentence is fine, as has been ably demonstrated by
Trevor Rogers.  The internet is a wonderful source of stories for any
journalist or reporter who has a deadline in a few hours and nothing else they
can report on.  You can report virtually anything without needing to do any
research or acquire any background information.  Therefore the *real* purpose
of the internet can finally be revealed:
    The Internet is a piece of high-technology whose single goal is to allow
    reporters, at the expense of the truth, to grab the headlines for a day or
    two with an absolutely minimal investment in time and effort.
We hope to have made your job as a reporter easier through this simple guide.
Good luck, and remember, as long as you use the magic words "pedophile",
"porn", and "protecting the children" as often as possible, you can get away
with anything.
Written 15/6/95 Peter Gutmann, from an original by Scot Stevenson.

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