Devil in the detail

When one of my editorial colleagues stumbled across a company on the web that had developed a terrific new technology, he decided to give its public relations chap a call to see if he might be able to arrange a telephone interview with the company’s chief technical officer.

The public relations manager was quite thrilled by the prospect of his top manager being interviewed by the well-respected publication, especially when the editor informed him that nothing would go into print until he had reviewed it for technical accuracy.

And so it was that the telephone interview was set up between the editor and the chief technology officer. To the delight of the editor, the interview went rather well, and he crafted a short piece based upon the conversation in no time at all.

But as perfect a piece of prose that it was, the editor realised that something was missing – the chief technology officer simply hadn’t disclosed enough technical detail to make it interesting enough for the technically qualified readership of the publication. So, before he sent it back for review, the editor decided to put in a little bit of extra effort to see if he might be able to enhance it with a few more technical facts.

In his research, the editor discovered that the technology in question had come to the fore as the result of work carried out by a PhD student at one of the UK’s more prestigious universities five years earlier. The company in question had licensed the technology from the university and had enhanced it further before commercialising it.

It didn’t take long for the industrious editor to find the specific PhD thesis on the web. Not in the least because a hyperlink to it had been provided on the company’s very own website. So, after carefully studying it, the editor briefly summarised the work in his own words, with the result that the piece became a far more interesting read.

Then, finally happy with the technical content of his article, the editor e-mailed it back to the public relations executive, firmly believing that his efforts would be well received by the company.

But I’m sorry to report that despite the extra hard work that the editor put in to beef up the technical aspects of his article, the chief technical officer wasn’t too happy with the result.

While he appreciated that the readers of the magazine might find the technology of great interest, he was decidedly wary of allowing even a summary of the PhD thesis into print for fear that his competitors might read it and discover too much about what the company was up to – even though the company’s own website provided the link directly to the document. So he asked, through his public relations executive, for the additional technical details to be removed.

Not wanting to upset the company, the editor did as he was asked before submitting the slimmed-down piece for publication. When the article was printed, of course, the readers were none the wiser. But those that are interested enough can still find the link to the PhD thesis from the company’s website to this very day…

Dave Wilson
Editor, Electronicstalk

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