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Tony Mobily [interviews]

Interview with Fuat Kircaali, CEO of Sys-Con

fsmsh.com/1354 [interview] [fuat-kircaali] [maureen-o'gara] [pamela-jones] [sys-con]

Fuat Kircaali is the founder and CEO of SYS-CON Media, the company which publishes "Linux Business News" among its 16 i-technology titles.

UPDATE: Mr. Kircaali has indeed apologised to the free software/open source community, to his editors and to Ms. Jones for publishing the article on Pamela Jones. He also stated clearly that he agreed on the fact that the article did have ethical problems. See his message here. I (Tony Mobily) talked to him on the phone about this matter and yes, his apologies are genuine and he now understands the ethical issues about the article. Reading his answers (below), it is clear that his view on the matter has changed quite a lot, and that the interview doesn't portrait his current view on the episode.

You recently published an article about PJ, which caused a lot of heated debate. Can you please summarise your previous contact with her?

Our only contact was when we invited her for a SYS-CON.TV interview. I don’t know the extent of Maureen’s contact with her, if any.

You mentioned that you contacted her for an interview at some point…

Ms. Jones was one of the people we invited for a live streaming television interview at SYS-CON.TV along with numerous others from various segments of the industry when we launched SYS-CON.TV last December.

You had mentioned that at some point she didn’t come for an interview...

She kindly declined our invitation. So far she is the only person who was invited for a SYS-CON.TV program who decided not take advantage of this opportunity. That invitation is still open, as far as I’m concerned.

So she didn’t agree on coming...

She kindly declined our invitation explaining that she doesn’t do on–air interviews and we respect her decision but we are confident that she will change her mind and that we will be able to host her at one of our upcoming live broadcasts in the future.

OK. Now... you probably know Groklaw, and how successful it is... as well as the reception it had. Groklaw won awards, and has a lot of loyal readers. How do you feel about this, compared to the less–than–popular articles by Maureen O’Gara?

I have not had a chance yet to read a single story at Groklaw. I am aware of its very impressive popularity, and the numerous awards it won. A number of our readers and our LinuxWorld editors are also among the regular readers of Groklaw as well. I’m not sure but we might have given her some of those awards. This is an impressive achievement and I congratulate the author(s) and the contributors of Groklaw on their success.

Well, how do you compare the popularity of a blog to the job of a reporter? A reporter is not a blogger. The reporter’s job is to report news. The reporter’s focus should not be on winning a popularity contest but on making sure that they are reporting the facts and the news accurately. Some of the facts that you report may not be so popular, so you don’t report stories by measuring on the popularity scale.

The article about Pamela Jones used words such as “elusive harridan”; it was anything but kind to her, and was basically about “finding Pamela Jones”, even though Pamela Jones clearly doesn’t want her private address and phone number available to the public. So, two questions: 1) Who decided to publish that article 2) Why was it published?

The language of the story is in the typical style of Ms. O’Gara, generally entertaining and easy to read, and sometimes it could be regarded as offensive, depending on how you look at it. I decided to publish the article. It was published because it was an accurate news story.

What’s your view about the option of being anonymous in the internet? You don’t think that Pamela Jones as a journalist would have a right to keep her personal details private? What I mean is, OK, you can decide to print your own address, but you don’t feel that a journalist, or anybody, should be allowed to keep their personal details private for any reason. What’s your view about being anonymous? This is important in this particular context...

As a blogger you do whatever you feel like doing. There are no established rules or generally accepted practices in the blogging community today in its historically early stages. Would an established media organization such as SYS-CON declare that they chose to remain anonymous? I don’t think so and why? You can find every SYS-CON employee’s phone number and contact information, including mine, listed on our Web site.

But they are their business numbers, not their personal home numbers…

Did you read the story?

Yes I did...

There was no one’s personal home phone number published in this story. The phone number published in this story was a number which appeared at a company press release listed as the official company contact number. This phone number was published by this company, not by Ms. O’Gara. Are you suggesting that the reporters should not mention any company’s published phone numbers?

Besides, talking about personal home numbers, you can find my home number listed in the white pages and my home address is listed there as well. If a reporter wants to call me up at home or in my office, they can look up my phone number and address and show up at my door and ring my bell. I will come out and take a picture with the reporter if he or she wants to take my picture. Any reporter is welcome to my home as well as my office. We are not anonymous or private when it relates to our professional lives.

But Pamela Jones is not claiming she is a media company…

I’m not sure what Ms. Jones is claiming to be. I think the closest definition to her activity may be classified as blogging. I heard she describes herself as a journalist, I might be wrong.

But then why does there seem to be a need for your company to know who Pamela is? Maureen O’Gara acted on your behalf in this. If you accept someone’s decision not to be known, or not to be in the public eye, then why go and look for her like that?

We ran a story entitled “Who is Pamela Jones?” The facts in the story were accurate. There was nothing in the story we thought factually, professionally, ethically or legally wrong. We publish more than 10,000 news stories per month on the SYS-CON.com Web sites. Maureen does not act directly on behalf of SYS-CON or anyone else. She is the owner of her own company, G2 Computer Intelligence. She is not a staff reporter of SYS-CON. We have been syndicating her LinuxGram newsletter for more than three years. You can read her original content at Linuxgram including the story which is in discussion here. We do not make decisions on behalf of Ms. O’Gara. I’m not her boss. She stands by her story, and if there is anything that I’m not qualified to answer, you can contact Maureen directly. I’m sure she will be more than happy to answer all your questions.

I sent her an email but I haven’t received an answer yet, I must admit...

Here is the phone number for G2 Computer Intelligence, 516 759-7025. Most unknown emails go to spam boxes these days, at least in my case.

Anyhow, I want to talk about the article from an ethical point of view. I prepared the interview yesterday, when you were defending the article a bit more, so it’s a bit –

As I mentioned above, if we thought there was anything wrong with this story factually, professionally, ethically, or legally speaking, we would not have run it in the first place. The reason why we decided to pull it was that when the content, style and the language of the story was perceived as offensive by a group of the readers, a denial-of-service attack was launched against our entire company, interfering with all of our publications and all of our readers. We don’t want to be part of this debate, it can happen at websites that encourage it. But, I do apologize to people who were offended by it. (emphasis added - T.M.). I am not interested in offending our readers or in driving them away. I do wish that they had tried to work with me to find a solution before the fanatics out there launched DoS attacks for days even after we pulled the story. Our Web sites remained under constant attack from Monday through Wednesday, for three days. We lost thousands of dollars in revenues during the past three days. We are trying to recover from the biggest cyber attack in history any media company was ever subject to!

A group of individuals (mostly with anonymous emails) contacted all our customers. More than 200 companies who are among SYS-CON’s partner list received similar letters, sent from a variety of different emails addresses over and over again. Take a look at one of these emails which was sent to all our customers and advertising partners. Who are these people and what do they want? This particular individual (we don’t know who he is) started his “crusade” after sending us this email by contacting and threatening all our customers.

Let’s analyze the situation… This individual has a problem with Microsoft ads on our Web sites. We are the world’s leading i-technology magazine publisher. We are not crusaders of any particular religion. We publish LinuxWorld Magazine, Java Developer’s Journal, .NET Developer’s Journal, 16 leading i-technology titles. LinuxWorld is the world’s most influential publication dedicated to Linux and open source technologies and we publish articles from the world’s leading Linux and open source personalities.

How do you respond to these people? Will you shot down your .NET Developer’s Journal today and tomorrow there will be another crackpot who has a problem with SOA Web Services, and you have to shot down your Web Services Journal?

Now, how will this individual convince the Fortune 500 companies to widely implement and use Linux and open source technologies with these types of crusades? This can not be the public relations activity that Linux or the open source communities need. We did not get multiple DoS attacks for three days from the Java community which crippled our business when we launched our .NET Developer’s Journal. There were not hundreds of emails and threatening letters sent to Sun declaring us the traitors of the Java community. Sun Microsystems is an active advertising partner of SYS-CON today, so is Microsoft. Every leading Linux and open source company is an advertising partner of LinuxWorld. We believe what happened this week is not representative of the Linux and open source communities, but these communities need to do everything in their power to stop these self-destructing individuals whose activities will only cause delays or permanently damage to the open source movement.

(I have deleted the details of the email’s sender, as he didn’t respond to my email and may wish to remain anonymous - T.M.)

-----Message-----

Date: Tue, 10 May 2005 08:28:28 -0700

From: XXXX XXXX XXXXX@XXXXXXXXX.com

To: Fuat Kircaali fkircaali@sys-con.com,

XXXXX@lists.XXXXXXXX.com

Subject: Re: Linux community boycott of SYS-CON

You're on really thin ice. Thinner than thin.

You started with just running MS propaganda adds on your sites; for too long that's been leaving a bad taste in my mouth. Now you've really done it.

You better stop acting like moles and permanently stay that way because I'm one step from leading the crusade to run you out of town. I'll tell you one thing, this is the last day you get another cent from Microsoft. Your actions of your publications have been unconcienable. If you have any interest in reconciliation with this community and have a genuine interest in representing it as a printed publication you will have to make great strides to impress us.

If you were out to produce FUD your game has been had.

Or, maybe you should go back to Yachting. You seem to understand that community better.

Sincerely,

XXXX XXXX

President

XXXX XXXXXXX Inc.

----End of message---

And then we have this group of individuals who think that they are doing their share of the “crusade” to protect the interests of Linux and open source. This particular individual, who works for the world’s largest XXXXXX company (Detail deleted - T.M.), was among the handful who sent the following email to all or most of our customers. Since his phone number, in addition to his business address, was included in his email signature, I called him up and asked him “if the email he sent to all our customers reflected the opinions of his company and his chairman?” He told me he needed legal advice and hung up the phone. Since Monday, after the attacks started, we either took phone calls or returned phone calls to these individuals. Every time we asked them a simple question, they told us that they will need to seek legal counsel and hung up the phone on us. This week we managed to get single unanimous answer to all our simple questions. “I think I need legal advice.”

(I have deleted the headers from this email as requested by the email's author - T.M.)

-----Message-----

From: Brennan Hay

Sent: Monday, May 09, 2005 4:57 PM

Subject: A problem with your advertising + SYS-CON Media website

I would like to bring your attention to the following article appearing at

Linux Business News

Your company advertising was present on this piece of journalism .

Does this article reflect your company values and ideals?

What do the customers you are trying to reach think of this article?

Here is a hint: Slashdot

Regards,

Brennan Hay

----End of message---

Do you think that there is anything ethically unacceptable about going and looking inside someone else’s house, describing it to other people, and then going and harassing the person’s aged mother... do you think there ethical problems with this behaviour? Especially when the person has said before that she doesn’t wish do be known?

How do you describe a reporter knocking on your door, introducing herself or himself as a reporter and asking for an interview as harassment? Print and radio and TV journalists do it all the time. Why shouldn’t online journalists be allowed to do this? You have a choice to grant or decline an interview. What does ethics have anything to do with professional reporting and journalism? What is “unethical” is to report the facts knowingly wrong. That’s not professional journalism. It might be called irresponsible blogging. From what I read and decided (I checked the facts myself), there was nothing wrong with the story as long as it reported the facts.

Do you realise that there have been issues surrounding the court cases that Pamela Jones has been reporting about, and that there have been controversial “events” – let’s call them that – and due to these events she may have wanted to keep her identity secret for a good reason... Also, she wants to be able to be completely unbiased, and the people who are not on her side might start threatening her family. Now, do you see this a good reason not to have your address and your phone number known? If you thought that your wife, or your children could possibly be at risk in any way – financially, physically, etc., would you then want your address to be kept secret?

There may be a number of reasons why someone may want to remain secret. I can’t talk on behalf of anyone who wants to remain anonymous or secret. All I know is we, in the media, are not anonymous people with secret addresses and phone numbers. You can reach me anytime and anywhere you like.

Now, I don’t believe it is, but if the majority of Ms. Jones’ readers are the same people whom we dealt with this week, now I understand better why she may want to remain anonymous.

Sometimes, to avoid these threats, and to avoid these problems, you have to keep your information private, because-

You have all the right to do whatever you want to do about your life, that’s your business… As a media company who became a victim of perhaps the biggest cyber attack in history, “to avoid threats, and to avoid these problems” you don’t have the option to remain anonymous.

But if you were the person at risk, and somebody did what Maureen O’Gara did, do you feel that the person who did it should apologise for it?

What Ms. O’Gara did, is she reported a story, and in this case I can’t imagine that there aren’t another dozen reporters who wish that they reported this story before her. I don’t understand why a person would think that he or she is at risk for no apparent reason. I don’t know what Ms. Jones does for a living that she would think she is at risk. I don’t understand it. If I did, we would have respected her wishes and not run the article at “Linux Business News.”

There are, in my opinion, reasons why I would feel at risk, if I were Pamela Jones. So... I am not a paranoid person. There have been questionable events in this case and Pamela Jones has received threats. And to me that’s a good enough reason to be at least worried.

Well, there were several threats left in the story feedback column overnight against Ms. O’Gara as well. We removed those entries, but of course left up the rest, even the harshest criticisms. We decided then to pull the article from our “Linux Business News” Web site. Our site has been down for three days in a row, for most of the day, with multiple “denial of service” attacks. Now, we don’t know who is behind this criminal activity. You shut down the Web site of a media company with multiple DoS attacks for three days, because you don’t like a story you read there. I’m a proud American citizen. Where are my First Amendment rights? Where are Ms. O’Gara’s? Where is the freedom of press? Where in our constitution does it say a reporter does not have the right to contact you to request an interview? How do you expect me to find these criminals and bring them to justice in the anonymous world of the Internet? We had five simultaneous DoS attacks going on against our site on Tuesday which crippled our Web site and our business for the past three days.

Maureen O’Gara also reported how a “strange man” had gone to Pamela Jones’ house trying to get in, and yet in the article she accuses Pamela of being paranoid for putting a strong lock on her door. To me, that lock was necessary if anything!

Perhaps. We have an old saying. Keep your door locked and don’t accuse your neighbor of being a thief.

Somebody writing an article for your magazine did something that I strongly consider to be unethical. She went to look for Pamela Jones, she saw the inside of her house, she talked to people who live near her, she then – and that’s where the real problems start to me – reported her religious beliefs and talked to her mother in a way to me that looks like harassment... Now, this is a person who has received threats consistently for two years, and this is a person who chooses to be anonymous. How do you feel about this? Do you think you should apologise to her?

Because of the controversial interpretation as you beautifully described, we pulled this story. We are in the business of publishing top quality editorial content for our readers of all our magazines. SYS-CON is the world’s leading i-technology media company. We are not in the business of intentionally offending anyone or any group including the ones they describe themselves as “crusaders.” We did not pull the story because there was anything inaccurate in the report, we did it because it somehow led to the DoS attacks, which I repeat, I believe are criminal acts. The story is still published in its original Web site at LinuxGram. We decided to pull the syndicated copy of it from our Linux Business News Web site. We have no intentions of encouraging or hosting an ongoing meaningless and pointless debate at our Web site, which does not go anywhere or accomplish anything and which, frankly, most of our everyday readers don’t care for.

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