Kiss and make up with IT?

The Wall Street Journal balances its recent slam of IT departments with a pseudo-apology that does more harm than good

Three weeks ago I wrote about a special section in the Wall Street Journal entitled “Ten Things Your IT Department Won’t Tell You.” The Journal article, a slap in the face to IT, must have aroused a lot of anger, because the world’s leading business newspaper last week ran a pseudo-apology entitled “Helping the IT Department Help You.”

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It’s the type of apology that really isn’t one -- its buried on page B3, and the word “apology” doesn’t ever actually appear. But the first line spoke volumes: “Corporate information technology workers are mad.”

The “apology” acknowledged that the earlier special section “generated many angry responses from IT workers.” Undoubtedly some of whom were senior enough (CIOs) to be taken seriously when they complained -- probably about the Journal inciting a gratuitous “us versus them” showdown between corporate employees and IT.

In atonement, the Journal acknowledged that IT is caught between a rock and a hard place -- between employees who chafe at restrictive IT policies and executives who demand even more restrictions, especially after something goes wrong. “So it is little wonder many IT departments want to keep some secrets from workers,” the article continued.

Next came the make-good part of the apology: a list of six “things your IT department wishes you knew.” (Subtext: IT isn’t doing a good job getting the word out on these, so we’re going to do them a favor and help them.) 

The list consisted of a grab bag of generic, superficial advice ranging from “how to create a secure password you can remember” to “how to lock your computer physically and electronically” to “how to avoid losing all your files.” Not to mention “how to get a quick answer from the IT guy” (as though IT guys are so brain-dead and slow-moving that getting a quick answer requires knowing how to do a raindance while speaking in tongues and issuing a special mix of threats and inducements).

I think the Journal blew it on this one. Their first article was at least a gutsy, well-researched piece that provided useful, if disconcerting, information to employees as well as IT managers. The follow-up “apology” piece was obviously the product of some editor saying, “hey, we need to do something to appease these IT people -- see what you can slap together and bury it in the middle of the paper with a boring graphic.”

Does the mainstream media have an anti-IT bias? It wouldn’t surprise me, given that most reporters are idiosyncratic types who march to their own drummer and hate bureaucracies. Meanwhile, they themselves don’t get much love from IT because the print media business traditionally doesn’t lavish employees with great technology or support. As long as your word processor lets you page up and page down, the suits figure you’re good to go.

So there may be some lingering resentment toward IT professionals among journalists, which is ironic. Both professions are threatened by emerging technology that could displace their jobs -- through contractors, offshoring, and commoditization.  Both are heavily populated with individual contributors whose jobs require both creativity and process discipline. And both write for a living, in one form or another.

So c’mon guys, play nice. And get back to work.

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