I saw this in the US ComputerWorld and thought it was perfect for this blog 'o mine. So here it is, as Don Tennant wrote it:-
It all began innocently enough with a story that was hardly an eyebrow-raiser. The article, "John Hancock reaps big benefits with new SRM software," was written by Computerworld's Lucas Mearian and posted on our Web site on Jan. 17. It was the type of story we cover all the time -- a user story that explains a technology problem encountered by IT pros and what they did to solve it.
In this case, the problem was storage system bottlenecks and blackouts, and it was solved with a storage resource management appliance. The implementation was successful, so everybody at the company should have felt good about it, right?
Well, that's what I thought, until we received a phone call on Jan. 25 from one of John Hancock's lawyers. The lawyer demanded that we remove the article from our site because we had failed to obtain a legal release from John Hancock to post it. No, I'm not kidding.
I explained to the lawyer that that's not how reporting the news works. I asked her whether, in her capacity as a consumer of news, she wants news stories to be vetted by the parties covered in the articles before she's allowed to read them. I could almost hear her rolling her eyes.
"This isn't about world peace," she said sarcastically. "This isn't Darfur."
She lightened up long enough to ask me to remove the article as a professional courtesy. When I asked her to give me a reason that would substantiate such a request, she claimed that the article contained confidential information that she couldn't specify because it was, well, confidential.
I declined, and she got belligerent, declaring that she would be sending us a cease-and-desist letter. When she asked me for our mailing address, I gave it to her, and I asked her where she was located as a lead-in to getting her name and contact information.
"The John Hancock Tower," she snapped. "Look for us." And she hung up.
The whole thing was sort of surreal. Mearian, who had spoken to the lawyer before the call was escalated to me, wrote about the episode in his blog. He noted the irony of a company named after one of the founding fathers having such a lack of appreciation for freedom of the press.
A reporter from the Boston Herald picked up on the story, and I told him I presumed that John Hancock wanted the article to disappear because it included a candid account from an IT manager about how the storage bottlenecks caused some finger-pointing between the applications and infrastructure groups at the company.
My concern was that John Hancock would come down hard on the IT manager who had the courage to speak openly with us about the challenges he faced and how he overcame them. That sort of experience-sharing is the lifeblood of the IT profession, and it's Computerworld's raison d'être.
In the end, however, we found that John Hancock wasn't the unreasonable behemoth it appeared to be. We were informed that the lawyer who had contacted us did so without authorization, and on Jan. 29, the company issued this statement:
"John Hancock respects the right and the need for media outlets to report the news. We regret that Computerworld was contacted and any unauthorized statements that may have been made to the publication."
Hopefully, the company also respects the need for IT professionals to speak freely to the media, barring the disclosure of truly confidential information. At its best, John Hancock will demonstrate that stymieing the trade press with overly restrictive corporate communications policies does nothing but sink a valuable resource in an ocean of timidity.
Don Tennant is editor in chief of Computerworld. Contact him at [email protected]
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