ZDNet was miffed. It was gearing up to break a story on Monday morning that it knew would embarrass rival publisher IDG, and it had to run a half-baked story on Sunday morning instead, after IDG stole its thunder.
First, full disclosure: I spent 19 years at IDG publications, including nine years at Computerworld. I served as editor in chief from 2004 to 2007, and after that I spent a year as editorial director of Computerworld and sister media outlet InfoWorld. So it's not surprising that I'm a fan of those pubs, and that I would notice a story filed by Computerworld reporter Gregg Keizer on Sunday headlined, "Windows Metrics Source Lies About Identity." This is how the story began:
One of the more interesting people I've talked with in the last two years is a figment of his own imagination.
"Craig Barth," the chief technology officer of Florida-based Devil Mountain Software, a company that makes and markets Windows performance metrics software, is, I have discovered, nobody. He doesn't exist.
Barth is, in fact, a nom de plume, which is a fancy, French way of saying "alias." The real man behind the curtain is Randall C. Kennedy, a popular, sometimes outrageous blogger for and frequent contributor to InfoWorld, a publication that like Computerworld is part of IDG. Kennedy's connection to InfoWorld was severed on Friday.
The two, Barth and Kennedy, are one and the same. The problem was that I didn't know that. The problem was that Kennedy didn't tell me he was Barth, that I didn't figure out Barth was he, and that together, they were Devil Mountain.
Keizer went on to apologize for his failure to validate his source.
Also on Sunday, InfoWorld Editor in Chief Eric Knorr informed his readers of the development in a piece headlined, "An Unfortunate Ending." Knorr offered an apology, as well:
On Friday, Feb. 19, we discovered that one of our contributors, Randall C. Kennedy, had been misrepresenting himself to other media organizations as Craig Barth, CTO of Devil Mountain Software (aka exo.performance.network), in interviews for a number of stories regarding Windows and other Microsoft software topics. Devil Mountain Software is a business Kennedy established that specializes in the analysis of Windows performance data.
There is no Craig Barth, and Kennedy has stated that this fabrication was a misguided effort to separate himself (or more accurately, his InfoWorld blogger persona) from his Devil Mountain Software business.
Integrity and honesty are core to InfoWorld's mission of service to IT professionals, and we view Kennedy's actions as a serious breach of trust. As a result, he will no longer be a contributor to InfoWorld, and we have removed his blog from this site.
Over the past 10 years, Kennedy has contributed valuable information on Windows performance and other technical issues to InfoWorld and its readers -- insight and analysis we still believe to be accurate and reliable. Based on our discovery, however, we cannot continue our relationship with Kennedy.
The only one who hasn't apologized is Kennedy himself. Rather than acknowledge the outrageousness of his unethical behavior, Kennedy is attempting to throw IDG under the bus in a desperate, somewhat pathetic, bid to salvage his reputation. It's an effort that's doomed to fail.
Kennedy is probably taking some comfort in the fact that some of the blame is being directed at IDG for failing to properly vet a source. That's unfortunate. The fact is, even really good reporters, like everyone else, can be duped.
A similar situation unfolded at Computerworld in 2003, when I was the news editor. Brian McWilliams, a freelance journalist based in New Hampshire, perpetrated a hoax that convinced one of our reporters that he was a Pakistani terrorist named Abdul Mujahid, and he took credit for creating the Slammer Internet Worm. Our reporter wrote a story on that basis, the hoax was exposed, and Maryfran Johnson, my predecessor in the EIC chair, took responsibility for the mess and apologized to our readers.
Of course, the blame rested far more squarely on my shoulders as the news editor, but Johnson did what any good EIC would do, and she was one of the best. The bottom line was we messed up, we immediately acknowledged it and apologized for it, and we took steps to avoid a recurrence. That's all you can do.
That's what Computerworld and InfoWorld did when, seven years later, there was a recurrence. They no doubt are stronger for it, and I'm confident that their readers will be as forgiving as all people tend to be when those of us who goof up admit it and apologize.
If Kennedy does eventually come clean and apologize for his unethical behavior, my hope is that he will be shown just as much compassion. Until then, his road ahead will likely be a bumpy one.