Rupert Goodwins' Diary

Tuesday 03/08/2004It was a quiet morning. Mun was phoning a contact to ask about a security story, but the contact was clearly excited by something else.

Tuesday 03/08/2004
It was a quiet morning. Mun was phoning a contact to ask about a security story, but the contact was clearly excited by something else. "You'll never guess what I've got!" he said. "It's a laptop with Linux on it -- comes pre-installed!"

Ah, this was more like it. "Who makes it?" Mun asked.

"I'm not sure I should tell you…" He went and checked his paperwork. "Oh, no, I'm fine. The NDA expires today."

"No time?"

"No time. Hey, it's HP. It's due to be announced today at LinuxWorld -- it's their big surprise."

And so, sanctified by HP's legal department, the bag was opened and the cat strolled out, picking its way daintily through the bean spillage. Mun wrote it up and wham! Lead story on the site.

After lunch, the phone rang. It was one of HP's PRs. "You've gotta take that down!" they said. No chance, matey. We would have had some sympathy -- after all, what pleasure could we take at squelching HP's big LinuxWorld keynote? -- were it not that HP's inept news handling had previously landed us and many others in the dirt (yes, the name of that mystery company can now be revealed). But we are nothing if not polite. "Why would we want to do that?" we asked. Various arguments were made, none of which cut much ice: the call ended with us declining to pull a story just because it messed up a marketing move, and HP's PR saying they'd get back to HP with the news.

Then our US comrades got in touch -- they were going to run our story, and just wanted to check a couple of things. We told them that HP was on the warpath, so there might be some heat. "Really?" said the US. "Then why is all the information already on the HP Web site?"

At this point, I'm ashamed to relate, there was some cackling in the office. We promptly edited the story to include some more details harvested from hp.com and were just republishing when the phone went again.

It was HP's PR, under new and strict instructions from above to shut us down and shut us down good. They were clearly labouring under the mistaken idea that NDAs were still in force. The office fell silent as Matt Loney fielded the call. "Uhhuh… mmm… uhuh", he said, while the receiver began to smoke at the seams. "No, no. I don't think so. In fact, we're just updating it with some more details. Accuracy is all, right?"

Apparently, it was not all right. There was more smoke, and perhaps a flash of lightning. "No, no," said Matt. "We're not taking the piss, but we think HP is" -- pause -- "We got that information from the HP Web site. It's all up there."

Comedy gold. The silence in the office was replaced by the sound of journalists falling off their chairs.

We did the decent thing: sent the link to the PR so they could go back to the HP lot and demonstrate that in the department of legs to stand on they were deficient to the tune of two. You have to feel for a PR stuck with this sort of mission impossible -- they knew that they were being asked to storm the citadel with nothing but a bladder on a string, but if the client insists… what can you do?

(On a different tack, we're not sure what to make of the PR who sent us a footy story entitled 'Snatch of the Day' -- 3 has got the rights to air Premiership goals ahead of terrestrial TV. Although it does seem apposite...)

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