Technological blind spots plague both fictional and real life news people

Anyone else watching HBO's new series, The Newsroom? I am and I'm enjoying it quite a bit. In case you haven't seen it, it's an Aaron Sorkin show about a fictitious television station (ACN) that has a news team that's decided to go back to covering real news rather than sugar-coated puff pieces and human interest stories. The show loops in real-world news stories from the past few years (the first episode was about the Gulf oil spill) to give it an air of legitimacy. The team almost immediately runs afoul of the bean counters who're worried about loss of viewers, and higher level execs who don't like the team asking uncomfortable questions about friends of the station, so to speak.

Anyway if you have HBO it's worth a look, though you should start at the beginning (episode 6 aired last night). But even though I'm enjoying it, there are things that bug me for not seeming realistic. For instance, MacKenzie McHale (played by Emily Mortimer) is the team's new Executive Producer. She's just returned from 26 months of very successfully covering news in Iraq and Afghanistan.

She's smart, competent, very experienced with being in the field. In a recent episode she was talking to a reporter in Egypt, instructing him to compress his coverage and transmit it via YouSendIt. I wasn't paying precise attention so it may have been techno-babble but the writers were demonstrating that she knew how to move files around the globe.

But, it would appear, she can't fathom sending email. There're a few scenes early on about her being completely baffled by her Blackberry, leading to a [spoiler] huge snafu when she sends an email to the entire company instead of one person.

Silly, right? How can there be a journalist in 2010 that can't figure out something as basic as email?

So why am I talking about a TV show? Because in a case of life (roughly) imitating art, I read a story over at VentureBeat yesterday about NY Times lead tech reporter Nick Bilton promoting a fake NY Times opinion piece.

Bilton came forward, admitted his mistake (and I don't mean to drag the guy through the mud...we all make mistakes) and demonstrated how and why he was fooled (you can find out more over at VentureBeat). Kudos to him for transparency and not trying to sweep this under the rug.

To me, the fake was immediately obvious because it was posted at the domain opinion-nytimes.com rather than at nytimes.com. It seems crazy to me that a tech reporter wouldn't immediately see that. Doesn't everyone pay attention to the name of the domain they're reading?

Well apparently not. And I should know better myself, having worked as a web developer for various IT and technology focused sites over the years, and seeing countless examples of really smart writers having really weird blind spots in their tech knowledge. I'm sure I have plenty myself. And I'm sure Nick Bilton will start paying attention to domain names going forward (I'm more apt to read the URL of a page than the title of it).

So maybe it's not so far-fetched that MacKenzie McHale would be stymied by the email UI on her Blackberry. I'm not going to let a few unlikely blind spots impact my enjoyment of The Newsroom or my opinion of Nick Bilton.

Have any stories about people you know and their technical blind spots? Share them in the comments!

Read more of Peter Smith's TechnoFile blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Peter on Twitter at @pasmith. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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