Friday, May 13, 2011

Andrew Orlowski: Drunk, Unethical, or Just Plain Crap?

In the old days, reporting was easy. You took the facts of the story, and arranged them into a nice pleasant format that makes for easier reading. Nowadays, however, “Journalism” means taking a set of facts, discarding those that don't fit with the story you aim to write, and then writing a piece of prose that fits the story you want to tell. It's editorialising, it's writing 'fact-based fiction', but it is NOT Journalism.

There are many examples where journalism takes a back seat to editorialising, and grinding axes, but in the tech news sector, no-one does it better than TheRegister. And at TheRegister (aka ElReg, or The Vulture – presumably for its cowardly tactics, and only going after prey too weak to fight back) no-one does it better than their Executive Editor, Andrew Orlowski.

In particular, this piece caught my eye this morning (in case it goes 'missing', here's a screengrab of it, I'll mention the red and blue lines in a moment). It's a 500-word (including the title and byline) piece about an Ayr woman who pleaded Guilty in court in scotland yesterday to copyright infringment.

Well, why it started as a piece on that, before it's half-way through, it's turned into a rant against the UK Pirate Party. Not only that, in those 209 words on topic (marked in red below), there are at least 3 factual inaccuracies – underlined in blue. In order to pad out the other 281 words, he has to dig up random forum posts from 2 years back, as well as crop photos from a year earlier, attacking two people who were not mentioned at all in the article, or the press release sent to The Register.

So, let's look at the piece in full.
Still guilty, though
By Andrew Orlowski • Get more from this author
Posted in Crime, 11th May 2011 11:21 GMT

Freetards, beware. A file-sharer convicted of copyright infringement has had her mitigating pleas of mental illness rejected by a Scottish Court.
OOPS. First line and we already have a first GLARING error. At no point has her plea been 'rejected'. In fact, "Sheriff Jack McGowan deferred sentence until May 31 to obtain a psychological report." is in one newspaper, a sentence also repeated verbatim in other sources, including STV's report that pre-dated Orlowski's piece by 20 hours.

If you've 'rejected' a plea, you don't then put off sentencing for independent experts to assess the severity of that plea.


54-year-old nurse Anne Muir pleaded guilty to sharing £54,000 worth of songs over P2P after an investigation by the BPI and IFPI. But her defence lawyer argued that – in mitigation – she was suffering depression and had low self esteem, as well as having some obsessive-compulsive traits. She admitted to downloading 30,000 songs – in order to build up her self-esteem. She was found with over 24,000 karaoke songs on her PC, and almost 8,000 tracks.

"Learning this new technology and picking up new skills gave her self-esteem a boost. But to be allowed into the network she had to have a certain number of files already," her lawyer argued.

The Pirate Party of Scotland supported this.
I'm sorry? WHO?
The Pirate Party of Scotland? Never heard of them. Apparantly the Electoral Commission hasn't either. I did a quick search for "parties with pirate in the name', and only got one result, for the Pirate Party UK. I guess that's who he means. It is an easy mistake to make, though, especially when the email that has the quote he uses in the next line starts like this:

This is a press release from the Pirate Party UK.
For immediate release.
It is available online here:
***** Pirate Party UK outraged by Scottish filesharing conviction *******
The Pirate Party UK was appalled to hear today of the conviction of 58 year-old auxilliary nurse Anne Muir in the Ayr Sherrif Court under section 107(1)(e) of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act for alleged peer-to-peer filesharing. This is the first criminal conviction for P2P filesharing in the Scotland.

Oh wait, it says the proper name three times in the first five lines, and then gives a link to their site in another of those lines (which also has lots of 'Pirate Party UK Branding'. Amazing. It's almost like he didn't care, or bother.

"It is disgraceful that Mrs Muir should have been so pursued in such an aggressive and potentially damaging way, rather than given the support she needs in this difficult time," said the Pirate Party's Laura-Anne Riach.

Quite right: social services should step in. Muir should have been given free songs to cheer her up, forgoing the 79p per song demanded by the tyrannical copyright industries and their heartless, jackbooted henchmen.

You're so right, it's only 79p/song. Except it isn't. ooops. Not even the prosecution agrees with Andrew here. She apparantly had 7,493 digital music files and 24,243 karaoke files - a grand total of 31,736. at 79p each, that's £25,071.44. The prosecution says it's £54,792. So how is this possible? well, if we take the 7,493 as being 79p each (£5,919.47) from the total amount, that leaves £48,872.53 for the Karaoke files, or just over £2 each. That ties in with the court who is quoted on the STV site saying "Each music file can be sold for 84 pence and each karaoke file is worth around £2. The accused had 24,243 karaoke files on her computer, and 7493 music files, with an estimated total worth of £54,792."


This is, of course, where the legitimate reporting ends, and the personal attacks start.

Low self-esteem and obsessive compulsive behaviour? None of this will be news to anyone following a copyright discussion online.
I was intrigued to find this comment left by a poster called "Rancidpunk", urging the formation of a UK Pirate Party. It exhibits many of the symptoms:

hmm, yes, you 'found' it Andrew. Here's the hardlink to the comment, which was left 2 years ago, the 5th post on the thread, and one of the first of 973 posts. Whats more, the person hasn't even logged in since May5th (at the time of writing), FIVE DAYS before this topic. So, why is he bringing it up? It has no relevance to the story - Rancidpunk is not quoted in the press release, or mentioned in any way.

Even funnier is that it's an OLD screengrab. The signature had changed a LONG time ago, so it's more a case of 'got the screenshot, need to use it'.

Rancidpunk's YouTube channel includes a mash-Up celebration of Pirates called I Can't Get No GIRLS. I hope I'm not labouring the point.

The point is that you have an axe to grind?
And the pictures offer further clues.

My word, is this the infamous RancidPunk? Of course not. It's a random Pirate Party member (who uses the nickname 'xadet') and isn't in Scotland, or has anything to do with the news issue either. This is from a protest to the Digital Economy Act in April 2010, more than a year ago.

And it's hardly fair for Andrew to pick on people for looking a bit 'sad' - people in glass houses etc.
A sure sign of an obsessive is a 2,000-word comment that appears below a story. With copyright-related stories, one of these can be guaranteed to appear appear within minutes. They only ever come from one side.
How about a 500 word article about a news story, 60% of it nothing to do with the story, using comments and photos from a year or two back. Sure sounds like an obsession...
Of course, there's real oppression, then there's having to pay for music you want to keep. You can listen to almost anything for free, anyway, thanks to YouTube.
... Assuming it's on there, which isn't likely for karaoke tracks, which was 90% of the 'value' and over 75% of the files. Oh yeah, sorry, that's more facts...

Your reporter's view is that file-sharing is a real joy – that should be legally available. The music industry should concentrate on innovation, and delighting the substantial majority of us who are prepared to pay with new services, as its Number One priority. But it's their stuff, and they're entitled to go after the odd idiot who is too selfish to pay, or too stupid to know the law, if they want to.

It's funny he mentions 'too stupid to know the law'. That would be the same group that endorsed ACS:law's tactics then? (oops). The same group that lied to the police (against the law) to get Oink raided (whoops!) and a few other 'legal' issues where it's been proven they don't know the law. While we're ont he subject of knowing the law, and since this is about Mrs. Muir, funny how he didn't mention that Section 107(1) of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act (CDPA) 1988 is meant for counterfeiting, and that section 107(2a) was added in 2003 to specifically deal with online stuff.

So... Who's too stupid to know the law then?

By the way, the content of your piece here falls FAR short of the basic standards to call yourself a Journalist, you might be able to get away with 'columnist', but I think 'overpaid blogger' is probably more accurate.

One music writer friend of mine attended the small "Open Rights Group" demonstration at Parliament last year, and having taken a look at the assembled huddle, discovered a positive side to internet disconnection.
"Disconnection would be the best thing to happen to some of these people," he told me. "They'd get out the house, meet girls, and go for a walk."
Maybe this could work for 54-year-old nurses, too? ®

Oh my, another dig. Many members are married, have a life, heck, some of them ARE girls. Facts passing you by again, eh Andrew?

Anyway, I've fired off an email to his boss, John Lettice, asking if this is the kind of 'journalism' he expects and feels proud of. We'll see what kind of response we get.

It's not wholly unexpected that such a piece comes from Orlowski. Many of his pieces are equally factually inaccurate. In fact, that's almost certainly why they tend not to have comments turned on. I even posted a comment laying out pretty much everything I've said here. It's still not 'approved' (wonder why...)

So then, we leave it to you. Was he:
  1. Drunk?
  2. Unethical in attempting to portray his personal views as news, and using a supposed news story to launch an unwarranted personal attack? or
  3. Utterly crap at his job
Answers on a postcard or the comments below.

1 comment:

  1. He's a man that feels his views aren't being heard by enough important people and that makes him angry.

    AO in a nutshell.