Here's two antidote to some awful journalism. Spread them around, and do something like this when YOU see bad (or good, for that matter) reporting on Y2K. We're really going to need pro-social, pro-active media if we're going to do this thing right... - tom
From: David La Chapelle
Dear Time Magazine,
I find it most unfortunate that you chose to cover the Y2k issue in such a cynical manner. To report on the issue in the tone you took is to undermine the enormous effort of money, human attention and time which is going towards helping us pass through this technological wringer in one piece.
When the New York Times is able to cover the issue with a thorough, balanced, informative and helpful manner I must confess I wonder about the intent of your piece.
The crisis is real. Just ask the check writers in the businesses and governments around the world. To lump it into a catchall category of millennial fever plays to the very fanaticism you purport to sneer at. It is inaccurate, bad reporting and irresponsible to cover a event of such magnitude with such sloppy assumptions, with so little in depth documentation.
I must confess that the article supports the very reason I have let my Time subscription go unrenewed last time it came up for review. There is a pervasive cynicism which runs through the magazine which is an anathema to the thoughtful, reasoned and open dialogue our culture so badly needs.
I might point out that the risk you run as a large, multinational organization with multiple points of supply and a huge computer vulnerability means that your exposure to the very bug you treat so flippantly is vastly larger than mine. How you can ignore this reality is an indication, to me, of how out of touch you have become.
I am saddened by the cynicism in our government, saddened by the loss of hope in our young and saddened to see that the magazine I grew up with as a steady companion has lost its heart. Aren't you?
David La Chapelle
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From: John Steiner and Margo King
A very interesting piece. I learned a lot about the history of the Y2K problem and the millennial strand in our thinking and our history which I find fascinating. In college I actually studied the millennial fever and fervor around the year 1000. Daniel (I think that was/is his first name) Cohn wrote a remarkable book called the "Pursuit of the Millennium" which I still remember.
I also believe Time's intention was good; namely, to defuse a strand of worst case scenario, panic thinking, which is certainly out there, although I and many others believe they are in a vocal minority. I also am not aware of what your role was in the article, so what I am saying may not apply to you.
Overall, I'm afraid, I and my wife, Margo King, who suggested that I write this letter and shares what I have written, would have to characterize your story as most unfortunate and actually irresponsible. I believe you took the easy way out. How easy to be sarcastic, derisive, dismissive, and cynical (also one of the great strains in our history).
How much easier to put down, to focus on the hype and sensationalism, to find the 'crazies' than to find those that are sane and then to do the hard work to educate. We have a complex systems set of problems. You could have been and could still be true educators. There are academics, award winning writers on science and management, who have looked deeply into this problem and deemed it worthy of serious study. I believe that the real stories around Y2K are the (global) complex systems issues and how we have become so dependent and interdependent. The fact of our interconnectedness, technologically, ecologically, and interpersonally, has not yet truly given rise to a world view and paradigm that is commensurate with reality and our new understanding of reality. Do you know how many (dairy) farms are totally dependent on technology and could be at risk?
You could have accurately assesed the range of belief and opinion, giving some equal weight to respected, professional members of our society, in both the public and private sector, who take this seriously. Just last week at a community meeting in Lafayette, a Colorado state Senator, Terry Phillips, spoke of the importance to be prepared without any religious or millennial overtones, just reasonably and sensibly.
You could have offered a roundtable conversation among reputable people with different points of view.
You could have started, where you dropped into ocassionally, with the single fact that no one really knows what will happen and then taken preparation and contingency planning seriously. Your articles remind me a little of the story of the astronauts in the capsule as the rocket is ready to blast off and asking about the state of the O rings and the guys down on the ground saying, "Don't worry. We're working on it."
You could have used the analogy of a driver on an icy road. If he follows too closely to the car in front of him, he could be in trouble. Driving defensively, he can account for most uncertainties that will arise in front of him.
There clearly is a wind coming. No one knows the magnitude. It is highly unlikely that it will be a hurricane Mitch. But then no one expected such severity and very few understood the environmental degredation that had preceded the wind and rains that added so horribly to the fact that the storm turned at the last moment.
But mostly, Dick, what I hear is the old "father knows best" attitude. We have it under control. We'll take care of it. We'll fix it. And if you challenge that perspective, we'll just put you down-sarcastically, derisivley, and dismissively-and destroy your reputation. Your reporting reminds me, to some extent, about how the press handled the early years of the Vietnam War, who they tended to listen to, and how they covered the story from a previous war's perspective.
By God, nevertheless, I hope and pray you are right. I have just read too many differing perspectives and talked to many ordinary and technologically sophisticated people who are truly concerned and working to prepare.
This Y2K elephant is something new in so many dimensions.
I would challenge you to take it as seriously as the New York Times did a few Sundays back on their front page. In fact, I would challenge you to write a whole other cover story in a month or so, digging underneath the easy surface you reported on and finding those American citizens and legislators, business executives and housewives, mayors and scientists, who believe we would be negligent, even to the point of being criminally negligent, not to take this seriously and be prepared.
Panic will happen only if we don't accurately assess our situation, think about Y2K calmly, and then prepare and make some contingency plans-something our ancestors until quite recently did regularly. Some among us still do as an ordinary part of living in an uncertain world.
With enough time to store some food and water, take a little money out of the banks, understand where our vendors are, research whether or not our supply lines are comromised, we'll be in good shape. I believe that there is a very good chance (even one in ten might be considered high in this situation) that you will have contributed to real panic, if things are worse than you anticipate, because we will have been thrown further into denial, not having to take it seriously.
I must say I am truly sad at such a missed opportunity for Time Magazine. You could have engaged at a level of civic journalism. Barrie Hartman, editor of Boulder's Daily Camera, just wrote a sober, sensible (from our point of view), lead editorial in this Monday's paper.
Mostly, Dick, I am upset at how readily you have undercut the work of many hundreds if not thousands and I believe soon to be millions of responsible citizens in our country who take Y2K seriously, are not panicking, are not millennialists, who do not believe the sky is falling, and have been working their rear ends off along with FEMA, the Red Cross, U.S. Senators and Congressmen, and hosts of locally elected officials to prepare for the worst, while praying and anticipating the best.
I would certainly be happy to speak with you about these comments and even help you assemble a group you would find challenging and I am certain persuasive, including several whom you quoted rather selectively.
With best regards,
John Steiner and Margo King