Negative reporting? Not us, surely

The silly season barely over and, true to form, there goes the media leaping onto the first passing bandwagon with a hint of IT disaster about it. I'm talking about coverage of the demise of Terralink.

The silly season barely over and, true to form, there goes the media leaping onto the first passing bandwagon with a hint of IT disaster about it. I'm talking about coverage of the demise of Terralink, the commercial arm of the former Department of Survey and Land Information (LINZ is the policy and regulatory arm).

Terralink provides digital mapping services and data for customers including, indirectly, LINZ. When it was put into receivership last week, it was notable because it's the first state-owned enterprise to find itself in that inglorious position. It also presented the delicious – for a slavering mainstream media – prospect of flow-on disaster for another government computing project, LINZ's $145 million Landonline development. Understandable, maybe, in light of Incis. But if you ask me, they should pull back from this one before it's obvious to all that they're just engaging in knee-jerk negative reporting.

Landonline, whose aim is to digitise and put online the country's land survey records, was in the headlines late last year as a pilot went live – late – in Dunedin. There were claims of cost overruns and suggestions that it would never do what it was supposed to do, nor even be an improvement on the manual record keeping it's designed to do away with. But surveyors backed the system at their annual conference in Queenstown late in the year and the project's manager, Terry Jackson, convincingly defended it during an interview with Computerworld.

For the mainstream media, excitement about possible new problems for Landonline comes from the fact that Terralink was contracted to EDS to provide survey-accurate data for the project. LINZ acknowledges that Terralink's receivership interrupts that process, but points out that the survey-accurate data was the icing on the cake, and not the core of what Landonline is intended to provide. That sounds a reasonable explanation to me.

What is it about journalists that we gravitate toward the negative? "Not us," the cry goes up in the Computerworld newsroom. "We're just realists." And students, in the school of life, of human nature. We know that news is what someone doesn't want printed. And nor is it just journalists who tend this way. Columnist David Harris feels similarly gifted, remarking, as he filed this issue's contribution, that he always ends up writing something in, well, a minor key. On those occasions when he's set out not to, he reckons his efforts have ended up wishy-washy. But he takes comfort from the brief existence of a US radio station that went to air with the mission of only reporting good news. It lasted three weeks before being proved unviable.

Notwithstanding that what's often perceived as negative does actually sell newspapers, Computerworld will be going out of its way to write some relentlessly positive stories over the next few months, with your help. Our excuse is the Computerworld Excellence Awards, the deadline for entries for which is fast approaching (entries must be registered by February 28 – see for details). This year's awards cover the usual categories recognising the most successful IT projects, those IT professionals (and their bosses) with clarity of vision, and the best applications of IT in business, government and education.

There's also a new award, for the most significant contribution to IT. As a judge of this category – and not wishing to prejudice the outcome at all – I'd suggest efforts to spread the benefits of IT to the broader community would be worthy of consideration for such an award.

What we need from you are entries – lots of them. Visit the website for the rules and entry forms then have a shot at grabbing some glory for yourself and colleagues. Finalists will be picked out by May and then – sorry about this part – we'll write about your success in Computerworld. I just hope that all that good news won't stop people reading the publication.

Doesburg is Computerworld's editor. Send email to Anthony Doesburg and letters to the editor to Computerworld Letters.

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