Sensationalist media exaggerate VoIP-PSTN QoS findings cited in study

There's so much mis-reporting in the mainstream media and the technology press about the results of the Keynote Systems study on VoIP performance. The study, which I wrote about last week, contrasted the relative reliability of VoIP providers with traditional phone service, and with each other's offerings as well.

There's so much mis-reporting in the mainstream media and the technology press about the results of the Keynote Systems study on VoIP performance. The study, which I wrote about last week, contrasted the relative reliability of VoIP providers with traditional phone service, and with each other's offerings as well.

The study found that overall, VoIP call reliability and quality wasn't quite up to that of traditional phone service just yet. A few percentage points short, as I read it.

But let me tell you something about headline writers: especially those who work for daily newspapers. I've worked with my share of them, and they have this problem with what they see as equivocation. As a group, headlline writers and editors tend to associate equivocation with inconclusiveness.

Many more times than not, I've had a newspaper editor say to me, "OK, what IS this about?" "What is the key point here?"

In this latest case, some of the problem started with an AP wire service report on the study.

The lead graf:

"Internet-based telephone services are still very inferior to traditional phone connections in reliability and sound quality."

The piece was picked up by thousands of newspapers, many of which have headline writers that don't know the difference between defining the story and sensationalizing it:

USAToday: "Web-based phone service inferior."

Henderson Gleaner: "Hang it up? Web-based phone service poor, study finds."

And the overexaggeration was not limited to the general interest press.

"There's still a huge difference in the audio quality of Internet-based phone services compared to traditional hook-ups, according to a new study that ranks 15 vendors," Information Week wrote in its pickup of the AP story.

Voice over IP Not Up To Much," blared the usually respectable British journal the Inquirer.

"You're oversensational," blares Russell Shaw in the ZDNet IP Telephony blog.

For the record, "inferior" and "poor" are gross exaggerations. I would use the term "slightly less reliable." But that isn't too compelling a headline, now is it?