Y2K experts critize incomplete coverage p.10

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By: David Noack As Congress grapples with the problems that may stem from the Y2K computer bug problem, how are reporters and newspapers covering on of the biggest and most challenging stories of the year?
So far, media coverage has titled toward the extremes, with stories about people who are stockpiling food and water with the intention of heding for the hills to reassurances from public utilities, insurance companies, and local governments claiming they are well on the way to Y2K compliance. Just last week, federal lawmakers found that parts of the nation's healthcare system, expecially doctors in private practice and smaller hospitals, face the greatest Y2K.
But quastions remain: How much money is being spent (or wasted) to solve the problem? How are programmers struggling to fix billions of lines of computer code? What contigency plans have companies developed? What are the legal liabilities? What are the financial, economic, and business impacts? What about the hidden issue of embedded computer chips?
All of these questions and more were part of awide-ranging discussion by Y2K exceprts at a recent conference, Reporting the Y2K Story, sponsored by FACS the Pasadena-based Foundation for American Communications. The conference was held at the Freedom Forum's Media Studies Center in New York City.
Exceprts at the conference contended the media has not gone far enough in making the story part of a national dialogue. They said the nusts and bolts of the problem still need to be reported. They questioned whether jounralists are asking the right questions to company spokespersons and information technology officials.
The Y2K probelm relates to computers which were originally programmed to only recognize the last two digits of a date, such as 99 for 1999. When the year 2000 rolls around, goes the theory , computers will think its 1900, throwing things into chaos. Some believe that many systems will simply crash, including the networks that control basic daily activities in modern society.
Edward Yourdon, chairman and co-founder of the Cutter Consortium, a computer industry consulting firm, said reporters need to take a closer look at public relations statements. A typical PR statement on Y2K might read: ""We have been actively working on Y2K since 1997 and are making excellent progress. We are confident that most of our mission-critical systems will be completed by June 30,1999.""
Yourdon, author of ""Time Bomb 2000,"" said that taken at face value, most PR statements sound reasonable, but he suggested reporters ask these questions: What does ""actively"" working mean? How much of the IT (Information Technology) staff is dedicated to the project? Why did you start in 1997? How is progress being measured? What was your last software project and was it completed on time?
Victor Porlier, who heads the Center for Civic Renewal Inc., has made it a point to visit local town governments near his home in Albany, N.Y> area and found that many local officials think of the Y2K bug as a financial data system date problem. They were unaware that the police, fire, water and sewer districts will also be affected.
Dennis Grabow, founder and CEO of CHicago based-Millenium Investments Inc., predicted the Y2K problem will most likely spark a global economic recession.
""There is not enough time to fix everything and in particular there is a shortage of skilled resources available. This is especially the case for embedded system remediation, which goes to the heart of our productive capacity,"" Grabow said. Embedded system remediation concerns fixing or replacing computer chips that are installed in most electronic devices, such as VCRs, microwave ovens, and even missile systems.
To get a handle on how the public perceives the Y2K problem, a recent Media Studies Center poll found that 64% of Americans say it's ""very important"" to them that the news media provide coverage of how medical establishments and 911 emergency services are preparing for Y2K. They also want to see stories about the pre-paredness of the U.S. military, banks, and local electric companies.
?(Editor & Publisher Web Site: http:www.mediainfo. com) [Caption]
?(Copyright: Editor & Publisher March 6, 1999) [Caption]

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