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Ink-stained tech hacks smacked, sacked

At the Forbes fête, guests were left musing what money can't buy when Forbes publisher Rich Karlgaard got up to toast his guests of honor. Discoursing at such length, he exhausted the attention span of his unsober audience. Chewing what looked like a handful of gumballs ("I don't care if it is Nicorette," sniped an offended attendee), Mr. K talked on and on until a distracted din began to rise. Karlgaard then gently requested his guests' undivided attention, hollering into his mic "SHUT UP!!!"

Part of my recent vacation was spent with my dear grandmother in the wilds of Quebec. Grandma DuBaud tends her own cranberry bog and as a result has a rather tart view of the world, and of her grandson.

"Hein, Skinny! Every day I open the newspaper and read about another journalist--Mike Barnicle, Matt Drudge, Chris Nolan--but never my own flesh and blood. When are you going to give me something to tell my IM buddies about?"

It's true, I keep a low profile compared to some of my colleagues. I would never, for instance, have thought to throw such a lavish party as Forbes did last night at their spendy digs on Airport Road in Burlingame. The guests of honor, some of whom were actually in attendance, were the Net luminaries honored on the cover of the last issue, the so-called E-gang.

Now for all the fuss about millionaire reporters, not many stock-optioned tech hacks I know have sleek maple desks with fancy artwork on the walls and vintage BMW motorcycles parked in the hallways, poised to whiz them off to the scene of the latest stock split. Though I must say, if forced to choose between Forbes's Soyuz space suit under glass and the News.com massage chair, I'd rather space out at right here.

Back at the Forbes fête, guests were left musing what money can't buy when Forbes publisher Rich Karlgaard got up to toast his guests of honor. Discoursing at such length, he exhausted the attention span of his unsober audience. Chewing what looked like a handful of gumballs ("I don't care if it is Nicorette," sniped an offended attendee), Mr. K talked on and on until a distracted din began to rise. Karlgaard then gently requested his guests' undivided attention, hollering into his mic "SHUT UP!!!"

This had the rather perverse effect of inspiring everyone to talk at once.

"We were blown back against the wall," complained a ladylike observer. "The edit staff was just humiliated," whispered another. "I heard one say, 'that guy really needs to get his temper under control.'" "Malcolm Forbes would be rolling in his grave." "These hors d'oeurve are really sub-par. They had to re-do the whole floor plan to implement that executive kitchen, and this is the best they could do?"

More media mayhem down the peninsula: heads are rocking, not rolling, in the wake of Chris Nolan's affair d'AutoWeb. For those of you behind on the journalistic ethics imbroglio du jour, Merc gossip columnist Nolan got into a heap o' hot water after the Wall Street Journal reported that she reaped an extremely small fortune by getting in on the "friends and family" price of AutoWeb's IPO. Chris has taken her lumps, losing the column and a week's pay and getting booted from the company's high-profile business section to the Redwood City bureau. This week, her superiors who had known about the investment and not objected to it got their lumps, except they're more like little pimples that will soon be forgotten: Chris's direct editor Burt Robinson was suspended for two days (with or without pay Merc PR could not tell me). He has also left the business section to become city editor but a colleague tells me that move was in the works long before the AutoWhoops investment. Executive business editor Peter Hillen got a letter of reprimand this week, suitable for framing.

Was it a coincidence that just this week Merc owner Knight-Ridder sent out a helpful email spelling out the company's editorial ethics policy? Also, rumor has it that journalists who have been covering this fiasco have been getting irate phone calls from Merc executive editor David Yarnold, demanding to know their sources. It's understandable that Yarnold (who didn't return my News.com colleague's calls) might be sensitive about bad press, but that's not Chris Nolan's fault. Oh, what a tangled Webb we weave!

Other tech journalists didn't fare as well as Nolan, and certainly not as well as her bosses. Skinformants tell me the AP last month fired a technology reporter because he was chatting in dirty chat rooms using his AP byline. The writer's erstwhile coworkers are said to be wondering nervously if their editors are looking over their virtual shoulders at where they surf. Meanwhile, this item remains squarely in the rumor file; AP PR didn't return calls.

Some journalists like their water hot. Silicon Spin Dr. John Dvorak--who has managed to finesse some "friends and family" stock purchases of his own without even a whisper of disapproval--is reveling in the controversy he's kicked up with his criticism of the Macintosh iBook. "Looks like a makeup case...an embarrassment...can only describe it as a 'girly' machine. You expect to see lipstick, rouge, and a tray of eye shadow inside when you open it....No man in his right mind will be seen in public with this notebook..."

I happen to live in a household of social critics, whom I let loose on the column.

"Relax, pop," said my 12-year-old son Vermel. "He's just baiting gullible liberals like you and pandering for publicity. Don't give it to him."

"Dvorak looks like he wears more makeup than most transvestites," offered Vermel's precocious gay friend Jai Pegue. "And what's more, he's desperately in need of a make-over."

Dvorak may be as socially retrograde as his critics suggest. But who can resist his line, "I can just see the executives gasping when they first saw it. 'We said make it look like a Compaq, not a compact!'"

I don't care if you're on a Compaq, a compact, an iBook, or unpaid leave. What I find irresistible are your rumors.