Five golden rules for a journalist

Every once in a while some guy publishes his rants as an article. This time it was Nathan Willis with his “When open source projects close the process, something’s wrong”. Since this is a great example of how articles should not be written, I’ll use it to tell about good journalism.

I hope you’ll excuse the fact that I’ve been working as IT journalist for seven years only (and as editor in an offline IT magazin with >100K copies run per issue several years ago). Not that much, but still a nice experience.

There are several simple rules in journalism.

1. Make sure the issue really exists.

If you are a good journalist, you don’t play with people’s minds and you don’t make up problems. You investigate, analyze and tell.

Nathan: “Twice in recent weeks open source projects have surprised me with their lack of openness. In both cases, developers acted or spoke out in such a way as to intentionally push other developers away from their work.”

Neither of parties tried to “intentionally push other developers away from their work”. In the first case we have a designer and a spokesperson who express disagreement with people not having respect for their (or, rather, Oxygen designers) work. In the second case amount of decision makers is intentionally limited to maximize signal/noise ratio, while amount of contributors is not limited at all.

Is it really worth a rant, not even speaking about an article?

2. Research, don’t guess

Nathan: “Through the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, you can examine the Oxygen project’s site all the way back to 2005. Ever since the beginning, two things have remained unchanged: the only images available are “previews” licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs, and the team does not invite outside participation.”

OK, I look at the archive and I see that the website hasn’t changed. How does it related to openness of the project?

Instead let’s go straight to Contact page of Oxygen project:

“To get involved you can join the KDE Artists mailing list where everyone is encouraged to contribute, share ideas and offer help. You can also discuss Oxygen on IRC (freenode.net #kde-artists).”

Does it sound like the team is not inviting outside participation? Clearly it doesn’t. Every conclusion you make should be backed by facts. If you intend to prove that Oxygen team doesn’t welcome contributors, use facts: tell readers about people who actually studied principles of Oxygen’s approach to design, tried to contribute, but were rejected from participation. If such people ever existed.

Nathan: “But that absence of an open invitation to contribute is topped by direct rejection.”

Is it the same Nathan Willis who earlier wrote “When I researched the GIMP UI brainstorm in October…”? Research is the wrong verb here. Looking through is the right one. You wanna proofs? Here you are.

a) We can see Sven saying: “The process is completely open and you have obviously misunderstood quite a few things about it. … Can we please not distract ourselves right now with a discussion that is based on nothing but fear, doubt and misunderstandings? Thanks.”

b) “Participate in the UI brainstorm” is listed among “Ways in which you can help” at GIMP’s website.

The term direct rejection is a clear case of no good research at all. For every conclusion you needs solid facts. To get solid facts you have to research.

3. When writing about a conflict situation, talk to both parties.

This is not even an option like buying or not buying ice-cream in a supermarket. This is golden rule. If you don’t follow it, go blogging elsewhere.

  • Did Nathan contact the creator of “Oxygen Refit” icon package to ask him if he was really abused? Since this is not mentioned, I’d say, no — the guy wasn’t contacted. You say you disagree? Then prove me wrong. Use facts.
  • Was Oxygen team contacted to provide comments? Not mentioned in the article, therefore not contacted.
  • Was Esteban contacted to have him say he was abused by GIMP UI design team rules? Looks like he wasn’t as well. Too bad, because after initial misunderstanding, how the UI design project works, he keeps contributing. To the “closed” project :)
  • Was GIMP UI design team contacted to provide explanations? All the same.

Googling and quoting isn’t enough. Go blogging, if you think it is.

4. Tell, but don’t teach.

Nathan: “The secondary complaint — that it is wrong to release the icons before the project declares them “ready” — is entirely incompatible with the “release early, release often” philosophy. Artwork is no different from executable code in either regard.”

A journalist is not supposed to teach (unless he writes tutorials), especially in an agressive manner. Never. Ever. Primary function of a journalist is to tell people what is going on. If you try to be both journalist and evangelist, you will fail at both. This is simple.

Anyone mad about the way Oxygen project works? Buy a punching ball and contribute to it.

Just for the record, I’m not affiliated with Oxygen project. I’m a tiniest bit affiliated with Tango project and I did feel angry about this silly Tango vs. Oxygen opposition. They are good friends.

5. Learn what you are writing about.

A good journalist can write about just anything at all. Sure, noone would expect a great SAN related article from someone who has been writing about agriculture for last 30 years. But if you are an IT journalist, you have no excuse for not knowing basics.

Very few users use most of functions in an aplication like GIMP. Therefore they can contribute with ideas how to improve a small part of the application, but they can’t be great UI architects, because they don’t see the big picture. As simple as it is. Basics, as I said before.

Now think about reasons, why decision making is limited to Sikking’s team. And think about the way OpenUsability project works (and it wasn’t even mentioned in the article — another sign of no proper research).

That’s it. Five rules is enough for now.

Oh yeah, and because this blog posting is about teaching, you are free to consider it a rant :)

28 thoughts on “Five golden rules for a journalist

  1. NotSure

    I am very glad that I do not read your blog, read any articles you write and I damn well hope I do not read any works you edit. This is the first and last time I come here.

    You have made a pile of baseless claims toward another writer, set out a list of arbitrary rules, and then broken many of them yourself.

    You obviously love KDE and GIMP and this has tainted your poor judgement of this situation. Take it from a graphics professional. The Gimp in it’s current form will never become a graphics tool. If even one percent of the UI remains it will remain a shit UI. That is if any real work is done to add some tools in the NEXT decade of its development because nothing has happened in the past decade of its development (well except a hell of a lot of posturing and ego inflating by a bunch of shitty GIMP programmers!).

    Reply
  2. sebas

    Moreover, this signal/noise thing you’re touching briefly is one of the major problems of both UI design and artwork.

    There are a lot of people around who merely think it’s better and are very vocal. It costs a lot of energy to deal with those — energy that is usually spent better in doing real work. Those people are called armchair developers (or artists, or UI designers), but they actually contribute very little.

    Since it’s easy to have an opinion about artwork (“I don’t like it!”) or UI design (“But my mother won’t find the option to change bilinear filtering to trilinear in CMYK mode for photos in RAW format!”), those people are often very vocal. And they need to be sent away sometimes.

    Free Software is not about accepting random opinions and let them influence your work. It’s about meaningful collaboration.

    Reply
  3. Alexandre Post author

    @sebas: I didn’t even know there is such a term for these people :) Maybe it’s just deep (or not much deep) inside a lot of people want to be visionaries, while very few actually can, and not all of them can handle properly this discrepancy between intentions and reality.

    Reply
  4. Henry S.

    @sebas: Very good point about the arm-chair developers.

    As a software develop, and unofficial UI guy at my company, I found it funny when I read this comment somewhere: “Software design would be so much better if it was designed for the customer instead of what the programmers thought was better.”

    1. There probably is customer input in most projects (in open source for sure)
    2. If we asked 1,000 customers what they wanted, we’d get 1,000 different answers, so their input is pretty limited.
    3. Sometimes customers don’t really know what they want, as they often use the word “automatic” to describe what they would like: “I just want to sit at my desk and have the computer *automatically* do my work…is that so hard?”

    Reply
  5. NotSure

    For those idiots whining about armchair UI designers.

    How many REAL graphics people are on the GIMP team? How many REAL graphics people are consulted? Are these graphics people limited in their UI exposure? If they have only ever used Adobe products, how on earth can they have any idea about the UI options and tools available on alternative art software. There have been great UI designs since the mid eighties. In fact not one has been a painful experience in use. The GIMP has changed that. The GIMP is painful to use in every way.

    The only way a program can be so completely useless for the job is if there is a bad programmer at the head. The worst programmers are always the ones who demand that everyone else is wrong, and that people have to learn the way THEY (the bad programmers) like to do things.

    Photoshop used to have the worst UI title in the graphics world, but even then it was still usable. The GIMP takes rubbish UI to a whole new level. As I have said on the thread this trash article is whining about, I have forgotten more about art software than any of the losers here have learned about art software. I even find it hard to list all the great graphics programs I have used over the decades.

    So there are armchair UI people. This does not mean that every criticism comes from a 17 year old who learned how to work on a pirate copy of Photoshop two years ago. Some of us have been around for a very long time and know shit when we see it. Its name is “The GIMP”. The longer you all keep your heads in the sand, the longer before professional artists take Linux seriously.

    Reply
  6. Michael Schumacher

    Hm.. you didn’t bother to read any of Peter’s original work, just Nathan’s criticism about the process, right.

    Or maybe you didn’t read anything at all and went straight to the ranting. It’s people like you you give the graphic designers a bad image (of course, could be that this is just your intention). Fortuantely many others are quite nice.

    Reply
  7. Alexandre Post author

    @NotSure: you were not planned to come back, I recall. You were going only to leave an offensive message and run. What has happened? Nowhere to run to? :)

    Reply
  8. NotSure

    @Alexander I have the page open still. Waiting for the sycophants to come out of the woodwork to defend their heroes fantasy position. It is no surprise that I was correct. Nowhere did I state when I would leave.

    @Shumacher Sadly, more programmers have bad reputations for being introverted, abrupt, unable to socialise with other humans than do graphic artists. Linux people also have a reputation for being introverted, abrupt and unable to socialise with other human beings. So I do believe that you have a case of pot calling the kettle black.

    Now does anyone have any real graphic artist friends who use The GIMP as their primary tool? Of course, real artists would be better, as changing the lighting via histogram and removing pimples from photos is not yet considered an art form. The only person I have bumped into online who does often use The GIMP has to use it on two screens so he can dump the gawd awful interface onto the second screen to get it out of the way. I would be interested to know how any professionals have found ways of dealing with The GIMPS decade long inadequacies.

    Reply
  9. Alexandre Post author

    @NotSure: So far you’ve been doing your function, that is — entertaining by funny baseless accusations, just fine. Do me a favor please — keep posting this nonsense and you will save me years of life from good laughter :)

    I don’t really intend to argue with someone who shouts instead of talking, makes pathetic highlight declarations without actually providing facts and isn’t responsible for his words by staying anonymous. All I can do for you is, as mentioned above, have a good laugh.

    Reply
  10. Michael Schumacher

    > How many REAL graphics people are on the GIMP team?

    At least two. jimmac and tigert

    > How many REAL graphics people are consulted?

    http://www.mmiworks.net/eng/publications/labels/GIMP.html mentions half a dozen for the workplace observations.

    I know that this will probably cause more comments like the ones above from you, probably ad infinitum. Neither of us can win over the other.

    However, the focus of the discussion has been shifted from one article about the process of improving the GIMP UI and a criticism of it towards the current state of GIMP’s UI. Changes are planned, and some are even pretty radical.

    If you do want to influence the changes, then you should read what Peter’s team is coming up with (check his blog, worth not only one, but many reads).

    If you think that something suggested there is bad, or if there is something important left out, then you can contribute to the UI brainstorm. As it is done graphically, it should even be more appealing to you than having to explain something in a mailing list or Bugzilla. There is also not way to comment on the images (at least not other than sending in an image yourself), so you won’t have to endure the developer’s attitude.

    You should base ideas on the current GIMP 2.4 releases.

    Reply
  11. NotSure

    @Sheumacher

    Well I have no comment about the list on the Gimp website.

    The article is definitely about the GIMP itself. The author of this article is definitely defending the GIMPS reputation. The fact that you ask me to wait is not on. I was one of the early adopters (I am of most new graphics software) last century. I was told to hold on because UI improvements were just around the corner, and within a year or two The GIMP would be a full suite of tools. Now, I cold have forgiven that as early enthusiasm, but I have been told to hold on for a little bit longer because great UI changes are just around the corner and tools are going to be added, every year for pretty much the past decade.

    I see The GIMP team as the ones to blame. They are obviously too busy or too lazy to work on The GIMP, but they obviously have egos that could devour continents, so they cannot allow anyone to come and touch their ego boosting baby. I have met well over a dozen people (not including myself) who have tried again and again to offer assistance. Does The GIMPs team even ask for qualifications? Hell no! You get an instant rejection. The two efforts trying to improve the UI have similar behaviour from their members. It is more about ego and power plays than it is about creating a great tool. I would help anonymously if a great tool is the end result, because at the end of the day, that is all I want. Most Linux fans probably know how much Windows sucks to live with. You all probably know how arrogant and climbing Mac Fanatics are. I can tell you that I am not the only graphics expert who hurts as much as you do when we have to suffer Windows, and we are sickened by the social crawling and one upmanship of the Mac Fans… Yet Linux offers us nowhere to seek refuge. Linux was declared the platform of Hollywood graphics Professionals in 2000 I believe… but with the exception of Maya and Blender, there is no software for us. Even if you are using 3D software, you need access to a damn good 2D graphics program for surfaces. Many people who have only ever used Photoshop do not realise that it is a compromise as it is. It is designed from the outset for photographers. The toolset is aimed as photographers. The UI neglects painting, illustration, animation and video tools in favour of a photography heavy front end. This is not wrong of Adobe, but illustrators and artists on Mac and then Windows found it was one of the few places to find any graphics tools. So to take a UI downgrade from Photoshop (a pretty damn big downgrade) is more than artists can take. This is why we are not flocking to The GIMP.

    In fact I have now learned that Paul Nolan HAS ported Photogenics to Linux, so there is now hope… I cant find a place on his webpage that is offering it for sale, but he always returns his emails. This is a lesson. We are happy enough to pay for software we will use. Photoshop pricing is ridiculous (Adobe seems to get away with it) so I do not expect $1000+ titles on Linux, but Paul charges $75 which is more than reasonable. I purchased Phtogenics 1 and 2 for about $150 each so the price has come down. To be completely honest, the lesson is that most people will not accept just anything because it is free. If I found a pile of dogshit or worn out clothing sitting on my doorstep for free I am unlikely to be very pleased about it. If I found free food on my doorstep I may be a bit dubious about it. If I found a free Linux computer that is a couple of years old I would be pretty happy. I would be even more happy to open my door to a BMW, even if I had to pay for it. Free is great, but only if it reaches some form of usability and usefulness. If you cannot do free and good, I would be happy with cheap and good. I would also be willing to donate (anonymously if someone else wanted the credit) my time and resources to a project that had promise. Maybe a GIMP Fork.

    Reply
  12. Alexandre Post author

    @NotSure: you write a lot, but mostly same old FUD.

    Providing mockups and UI ideas is a tiny help (though still appreciated). Those “over a dozen people” who suggested help with UI didn’t suggest writing code — is it correct? Provide facts.

    As for Photogenics on Linux, wake up — it’s been around since 2001 or so. So what? Anyone using it? A big NO.

    Keep entertaining us :)

    Reply
  13. NotSure

    @Alexandre You sound as if you are on the GIMP team yourself. This is not a compliment.

    Strange. Some ones personal experiences with some rude and arrogant people who promise many things, have been promising many things for a decade, but who have produced nothing tangible during ten … long … years. What do you believe FUD is? It refers to the fear, the uncertainty, and deceit or despair (depending on the person referencing it) that is paid for or orchestrated by a company, organisation or organised group of people to damage the reputation of another. You may have experienced real FUD in the way Microsoft deliberately tries to smear the reputation of Linux with half truths. I have lived through much worse back in the early nineties. Microsoft was powerful and it was unchecked legally at that time, so Microsoft did not spread half truths about the Amiga platform, they spread blatant lies through advertising, magazine columnists, sales people and computer consultants.

    One persons opinions and one persons experiences is not FUD. If it is, then Linux users are orchestrating a vindictive FUD campaign against Microsoft. That probably includes yourself. In fact, have you ever used Photogenics? Tell us the truth. If you have never used Photogenics, then you are sitting right next to the FUD dispenser. You are calling into question a great artists tool though you have no experience with it. YOu are doing this because you feel that it is in competition with your team, “The GIMP”. I still would not call it FUD, but all you need to do is organise your Photogenics attacks with a few others who wish to clear the way for complete GIMP dominance on Linux.

    The last time I was using Photogenics was in 1999. I was beta testing the new UI and helping with new tools. The program was closer to Alpha. Every time I tried to set the UI to suit my needs the program crashed. That was just before I had to switch to Windows and Phtotoshop for professional reasons and I lost touch.

    The GIMP problem can not be solved by shoving people away. I cannot speak for every person who I have met who has offered help to the GIMP, but I “assume” they were all graphics people. The author of the travisty of writing that wrote this blog entry has it completely wrong. Programmers (and I know a fair few myself) know very little about the way other people work. I do not assume that I know a damn thing about how the programmers I know do their work. I am not that arrogant. It does take someone with generosity to create a tool that they themselves cannot or will not use, but that is thrown away when that same person will not listen to the chorus of calls saying that they have it wrong. The programmer has assumed our workflow incorrectly, and is now refusing to fix it, or let anyone else try to help with practical help or with advice. If you want another example, The GIMP is like New Coke. It doesn’t taste as good as the original, but is not brave enough to be its own flavour when there are a lot of great flavours other than cola. Where the example differs, is that Coke realised no one was buying their claims it was better and went back to what worked best in a cola instead of sticking with a failed cola flavour for ten years.

    There would be no problem is programmers were complaining about the GIMP. Programmers are not the people who have to use a program like the GIMP 40 hours a week every week. When the graphics people complain, then there is a huge problem. The commercial standard for complaints is that only one dissatisfied customer in 20 complains. The GIMP is free, I’m guessing that fewer people complain when they get it for free. They just uninstal it and put it down to experience.

    Yes I have a lot to say, but maybe because I have seem more than most, and I see the situation a little more clearly than you do.

    Reply
  14. Alexandre Post author

    @NotSure

    Nice pointless rant, as usual.

    You say GIMP guys are shoving people away while they (Michael Schumacher) explicitely invite you to participate after all bad things you told them. Who is the nice guy here then? Not you, definitely.

    You still do not provide facts for UI redesign participation as requested.

    You are trying to convince me that I never used Photogenics :D, though you actually cannot know, whether it’s true or not, since you don’t know me, which means that you keep spreading lies. Just like about my “attacks” towards Photogenics.

    You can’t even read attentively what people write to you, otherwise you would never try to tell me that I question overall using of Photogenics, because I question massive use of Photogenics on Linux. Can you see the difference? I doubt you can.

    All in all, you lose on all fronts just like Nathan’s article: no facts, no proofs, no nothing. Just lies, speculations and childish attacks.

    Keep entertaining :) I just can’t promise I can and want to reply every “argument”. I got work to do, so wish to you.

    Reply
  15. NotSure

    @Alexander Your language has degraded to sounding like English is your second language levels.

    You have definitely not used Photogenics. Trying to bluff about the fact is just pathetic. If you had used it at any point, you would have given reasons why you do not think it is as good as the GIMP. Instead you just used the tired excuse of “it is not widely used”. I may not know you, but when you get older, you learn that people say more than they mean with how they say something, and with what they omit.

    Trust me that I am working on a UI. This takes time. I fully expect my work will take months. The final document will have full mockups of the UI in use, hundreds of images, hundreds of pages of text, researched sources, and even animations. I will need to review every current UI, every past UI, and question if it is the best way to work for myself, and for other artists. I am not an expert in every form of art, so I already have other artists onboard to consult as I go along. Everything is being questioned. Even the standard icons that most programs use, the size of icons, the number of icons, what toolsets, what practical art jobs the software should be asked to do.

    Unlike others, defining what the program is supposed to be, who it will be of use to, and how it will achieve this is important to me. I may not be able to code, but that does not mean I have not spent a fair chunk of time on improving things, and I expect to put in months more work. Eventually, I will offer it as a standard. It would be nice if The GIMP people took it onboard, but I expect that it will encourage others to fork GIMP or to create a new program from scratch. Once programmers understand how off course The GIMP really has been all this time, the chances of someone deciding to do something will improve. I will not be open sourcing my UI ideas… I will give all my work for free to anyone who will use most of it. That includes any OS, FOSS, commercial etc. If the GIMP does not want to play ball, and nothing points to them ever playing ball with anyone, then an absolutely complete document of how artists work, and want to work will be invaluable to many other people.

    Reply
  16. Alexandre Post author

    @NotSure: Only when I see real contribution from you I will believe in your good intentions.

    As for Photogenics/Linux, the more you comment on it, the worse you appear to know about it. FYI, this is unsupported software, not under development for ages. You can’t even download the Linux version and the old copy you might still have most likely won’t run on any modern Linux distribution. You just don’t know what you are talking about. There is no single chance it can be widely used, unless we are talking about some very specific isolated community of people that you for some strange reason are extrapolating on the whole world.

    Back in 2001 when I first tried it, the app didn’t impress me much, though it was in some ways better than GIMP (mostly brush related). These days, even if you apply some black magic to make it actually run, you won’t be able to use Wacom tablet for pressure/tilt sensitivity, while you can do it in GIMP, Inkscape, Krita… and the list goes on and on. Wake up, 2008 is approaching. It’s not 1999 any more.

    Reply
  17. Andrew

    Hi, I found your blog via Google while searching for Michael Schumacher and your post regarding Five golden rules for a journalist looks very interesting for me.

    Reply
  18. gentle man

    let the member follw the rules of journalism….u dont make rules dat “”U”” ur self breaks…be agood role models men !!

    Reply

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