'Professional' journalism, a case study: El Pais' coverage of the ISO OOXML vote

A couple of weeks ago I subscribed again to the RSS feed of El Pais, the biggest (and, supposedly, ‘best’) Spanish newspaper. Reading the headlines and some of their articles has become my daily dose of irritation with the so-called professional media. The articles are often misinformed, and at times show the utter ignorance of the authors and their unwillingness to do a little bit of basic research.

Take, for example, El Pais’ coverage of the OOXML vote.

The article’s headline is “Microsoft doesn’t give up in battle for OOXML”, and it is signed by Aitor Riveiro. The only external source referenced in said article is Héctor Sánchez, CEO of Microsoft Iberia. Mr Riveiro does not bother to mention which countries and organizations opposed the vote, and what are their reasons for voting ‘no’. Clearly Mr. Riveiro is of the opinion that it is of no interest to El Pais’ readers why countries like UK and Canada and France disapproved of the standard, or why the Spanish standards body, AENOR, decided to abstain.

Another El Pais article on the topic, linked in the sidebar of this first one, mentions in passing that Microsoft had “put pressure” on some countries. There is no mention of the accusations against Microsoft of trying to buy off its Swedish partners, or the uncanny correlation between corrupted countries and countries that voted in support of Microsoft’s proposal (not that I am suggesting that Ivory Coast and Trinidad and Tobago don’t have a stake in document standards, but you will agree that their sudden eagerness to participate in the ISO and approve OOXML is suprising).

Compare this coverage with an article on the same topic from the IHT: Microsoft’s bid for ‘open’ document format is unexpectedly rebuffed. This article quotes Microsoft’s manager for interoperability and standards, discusses Microsoft’s “agressive lobbying” that “reached into high levels of government”, gives hard numbers on the opposing/approving votes, and details on the upcoming final vote on the issue, which will take place in February.