On Sun's Board?

On Monday and Tuesday I had calls from a persistent journalist trying to get me to comment on the rumoured IBM/Sun negotiations. My reply was the same as it has been to everyone else who has asked - "what way would you like me to say 'no comment'?" - but I wondered why she was bothering me, a fairly small and isolated cog in the big machine.

Yesterday evening, someone showed me the BusinessWeek listings for Sun's Board and suddenly I understood the attention. As you'll see from the snapshot to the right, I appear to have been promoted to Sun's Board.

Before you start to throw accusations my way, look at the original page. If you scroll further (assuming the page hasn't been withdrawn yet), you'll see some other unexpected names with incorrect affiliations. They are all, like me, members of the OpenSPARC Board (shown as a Board Committee by BusinessWeek).

Oops. Someone working from search results can't tell the difference between Sun's Board of Directors and the advisory board of an open source project.

I had always assumed that a publication like BusinessWeek would fact-check this sort of page all the way to eternity, but clearly they have not. It makes you wonder just how much else in the media is fact-based and how much is a random construction by a novice in a hurry. I've advised the Editor-in-Chief, let's see what happens next.

Update 11pm BST: I just got a reply from a person at BusinessWeek. He's clearly cutting and pasting a form letter and hasn't even checked how serious the error is. He says:

The fastest way to have the error corrected is to use the "Update/report content errors" link in the "Companies Toolbox," which is found in the left margin of every CIC page in the CIC. Doing so instantly puts the accurate data in the hands of the researchers who will investigate your report and, if necessary, make the change. Be sure to fill out the short form completely.

I've replied saying I have no idea what the correct data is and why don't they check some official sources. Watch this space.

Update 1:45am Thu: No news from BusinessWeek and I'm heading to bed. Decided that despite the fact I am not an authority I'd better fill out their form - I just sent a pointer to this page. Hey, BusinessWeek, go look at the SEC filings, they are definitive.

Update 1pm Thu: The plot thickens. Seems no-one at BusinessWeek can alter the page; they have referred the matter to a division of Standard & Poor called CapitalIQ. I'm assured it has been "forwarded on priority to our research staff for review."  Right now I am still on the Board, though, seems I may have missed a meeting on Tuesday according to press reports. That are presumably as accurate as this data...

Update 2:45am Fri: Heading to bed with BusinessWeek still unchanged. E-mail during the day shows Sun's Investor Relations people sent full, correct details a day ago that can be verified against the SEC filings. Rather surprised there has been no attempt to fix anything yet after > 48 hours.

Update 11pm Fri: BusinessWeek just sent a note apologising for the error and saying correcting the error "involves a team in India removing it from a data feed, so it may take a day or two to show up on the site." My analysis is on my personal blog.

Update Apr 13, 1:45pm: Just got an e-mail from CapitalIQ in India to say they have updated their database so it now includes only the actual members of Sun's board. They say "The same should start reflecting on BusinessWeek in a day or so."

Update Apr 13, 5pm: Tweet from BusinessWeek tells me I am no longer on the Board; sadly, Jose Renau and Robert Ober (of the OpenSPARC Board) still are...

Update April 14, 4:25pm BS: All the names I know to be wrong have now been removed. Well done, BusinessWeek - that proves you're a weekly!


One would think. What's odd is that this stuff should be fairly easily extractable from basic SEC filings. I don't understand why they would be being pieced together from Google or another type of search--though it's possible that some other data source is corrupted (which takes some of the blame off BW but puts it on someone else who should possibly be being even MORE careful). I saw your position listed and I saw Nathan's name and it seemed pretty obvious what had happened.


Posted by Gordon Haff on April 08, 2009 at 07:36 AM PDT #

Wow. The Keystone Kops do business reporting.

Posted by Gordon Haff on April 08, 2009 at 08:29 AM PDT #

It gets even better. At the end of the form letter it says:

"Please note: We investigate report of data errors as quickly as possible. Since some data errors are easier to investigate than others, please be patient as we perform our research; it could take several weeks, depending on the nature of the error and whether your company is public or private."

I would have expected them to have a clue whether Sun was public or private. Or am I /that/ far behind with my mail?

Posted by Simon Phipps on April 08, 2009 at 08:36 AM PDT #

Why you should never trust any publication with "Week" in the title.

Posted by MacRat on April 08, 2009 at 08:37 AM PDT #

Disgusting behaviour in the way he has responded to your email too. Rather than actively correcting the error you are reporting he fobs you off to some online form to complete exactly the same information you have just given to him.

Posted by Che Kristo on April 08, 2009 at 10:46 AM PDT #

Best of all is the sure knowledge that when they finally do get round to taking this seriously it will undoubtedly be spun as my fault in some way :-)

Posted by Simon Phipps on April 08, 2009 at 10:55 AM PDT #

The three key issues at play are the author, the editor ( or editorial team ) as well as the timeline pressures. In my opinion one may find quality journalism almost anywhere Ashlee Vance writes. I think he still uses vi as the tool of choice and thus precision is his modus operandi. With other writers the precision may slip, potentially all the way down into gray areas such as Google search based reporting. The publication is not nearly as much to blame as the author and the editorial staff. Again, this is just my opinion. In general we can trust what we see in Nature Magazine or American Journal of Mathematics which are both elevated well above the "Information Superhighway" we were promised in the early nineties. As of 2009 the internet is really high speed broadband based fecal incontinence.

Posted by Dennis Clarke on April 08, 2009 at 11:30 AM PDT #

Does Ashlee still work at El!Reg. I used be to quite happy with that rag but recently I have been less then impressed by its quality. The recent "Opinion" on Sun/IBM merger had significant inaccuracies and the author did not provide any justification for his statements. Anyone can have an opinion. A well thought out and reasoned opinion is definitely more interesting.

Posted by sanjay on April 13, 2009 at 03:16 AM PDT #

Ashlee now works for the NY Times, find his blog here: http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/author/ashlee-vance/

Posted by Che Kristo on April 13, 2009 at 10:39 AM PDT #

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