Taken in good faith

  • Darren Waters
  • 11 Jan 07, 02:43 AM

CES is notorious as an event where this year's story is the same as last year's just with better resolution, higher definition and more connectivity.

So when I interviewed a senior member of the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project who told me the group wanted to sell the machine to the general public, "hopefully next year", then I thought I had a real story on my hands.

The story was published on Wednesday with the headline "Public can buy $100 laptop".

If you look at the story now, however, it has a very different headline.

It now reads "$100 laptop could sell to public".

So why the change?

Several hours after it was published I received an e-mail from a PR executive at OLPC who told me that there was definitely no plan to sell the laptop.

One frantic call later and it was clear that the "plan" to sell the laptop was no more than a desire, perhaps even just a consideration. I was told that the executive had mis-spoke.

So what to do? My story was written in good faith based on accurate quotes - thankfully I had recorded the interview.

I sent a portion of the audio to the PR to prove I had not acted dishonourably and I made a few changes to the story.

I changed the "plan" to a "possibility" and added a quote from the project's founder Nicholas Negroponte who said a commercial approach had been "considered".

If my story had been a TV or radio piece, then there would have been little I could change.

But it was clear that good faith had been present on both side.

The executive had used the wrong words to communicate the project's actions, giving me the sense it was a plan and more than a possibility.

Of course the outcome could have been different, if the context of the interview had been different.

If it had been Tony Blair teling me he planned to step down next week, only for a PR later to tell me he had mis-spoke, then would we have changed story?

It's all about good faith.

One Laptop Per Child is aiming to change the world for the better. That's the story, not whether the right modal verb - could, would or will - was used.

Comments   Post your comment

  • 1.
  • At 08:29 AM on 11 Jan 2007,
  • John wrote:

Agreed - the project is an excellent one, but looking at the project wiki there is a certainly some support for the idea of buying at least two - one for the "west" the rest for the targetted developing countries.

With adequate protections (different shell colours / spec) the obvious black market should be reduced whilst simultaneously generating good revenue for such an important project.

  • 2.
  • At 10:24 AM on 11 Jan 2007,
  • Annie Wallace wrote:

Hmmm...I think the key word here is "hopefully", which surely does not relate to "can".

I've yet to see a journalist who won't try and push the envelope on given statements by injecting speculation, sometimes extreme speculation, to spice up a story.

Anyway, isn't all this just journo-babble? A story was written, and was inaccurate, which was then clarified.

Why the convoluted explanation? Not bovvered. Back to reporting the facts please.

  • 3.
  • At 01:50 PM on 11 Jan 2007,
  • Sean McIver wrote:

I think the point, Annie, was to make sure there was no confusion over the story, and to clarify the situation, in case readers were confused.

Frankly, I'm glad to see someone being honest enough to say 'this story was not accurate through a genuine mistake.' No passing the buck, plain old explanation.


(BTW: great work the OLPC is doing.)

  • 4.
  • At 02:21 PM on 11 Jan 2007,
  • Andrew Norris wrote:

It's hard to see why they should not sell it. It will help to pay for the project. It would be great to buy one and be in touch with the person who you also bought one for. I cannot understand all of the panic. They may be busy at OLPC HQ. But this is very important. They could find someone to sell it for them, plenty of organizations might even do it for free, I feel sure of this. It only takes a few phone calls.

A previous story the BBC ran the OLPC project had the vast majority of comments absolutely slamming the project. I was the only one supporting it. And support it I did! Glad to see some more healthy comments here.

  • 5.
  • At 03:16 PM on 11 Jan 2007,
  • Eric wrote:

The laptops are supposed to be kept off the commercial market because allowing that would make it easier for a poor family to sell the thing instead of using it as intended. The original piece was a little implausible.

  • 6.
  • At 03:26 PM on 11 Jan 2007,
  • Ben Francis wrote:

Importantly, there should also be a transparent version control system to allow viewers to see all alterations that have happened, and perhaps notes to explain the reasons for the alterations.

This does mean more work for the journalists, but it does ensure that the BBC's journalism is seen to be at its most transparent and fair.

  • 7.
  • At 03:45 PM on 11 Jan 2007,
  • Richard wrote:

I think it would be great if they sell it. I'd certainly consider buying one, and the idea of the higher price covering the cost of donating one sounds good.

I think the OLPC project does have a good idea and hope that it will succeed.

  • 8.
  • At 04:49 PM on 11 Jan 2007,
  • Mike C wrote:

The OLPC Project is a brilliant idea which has the potential to revolutionise education in the developing world. It will be faced by corrupt dealers but with a distribution system separated where possible from corrupt politicans and civil servants it should win through.

My son and daughter in law both teach in a developing country and see these laptops having the same impact as mobile phones and wind-up radios. They and their colleagues are enthusiastic about the potential. Who knows what the emerging properties will be?

Sales of such laptops in UK on a one for two basis, as described, would be a great charity project for UK schools, churches etc...and surely Gordon Brown would let them qualify for a form of Gift Aid?

Shouldn't that be either "the executive misspoke" or "the executive had misspoken"? It's a fine thing when a BBC reporter can't use correct grammar.

I think that whether the laptops are made available commercially or not, there will be people wanting to buy them. If they don't make them available commercially at all, then you will have people who want to buy them, some of whom won't care whether they come from poor families or not.

But on the other hand, if they make them available in two different design schemes—a brightly-colored "playskool" version for schoolkids, and a more subdued version for commercial release, then people will be able to buy them commercially, but won't want the playskool-colored one because that's the one that should be in use by needy kids.

Even at $200, that OLPC will make a nice machine for a lot of purposes—mobile Internet terminal for email checking and web browsing, or portable ebook reader. And the idea of connecting a purchaser of a machine to the kid whose machine he subsidized is nothing short of brilliant, IMO; it leaves the whole "picture and letter" thing you get from most sponsorship charities far behind.

The OLPC project is a great idea and one but if it was sold in the west to developed countries I'm not sure it would sell well, there is nothing wrong with the laptops functions, software or hardware they work well in places where owning a computer is a luxury.

But from what I've seen by emulating the XO software myself it would not compete with even cheep laptops already on sale, but thats not to say the software could be re-programmed, changed or new apps added.

  • 11.
  • At 08:13 PM on 11 Jan 2007,
  • mike halsey wrote:

This is a great idea which I heard about for the first time today from my ISP's homepage. I would certainly commit to buy two and get one for the satisfaction of helping a kid get one and keeping in touch with him or her through our respective machines. Not sure I agree that "mine" should be any different in appearance from the "kid's" - I think the prototypes are a refreshing change from the dull black, silver and beige of most computers. Finally I agree with Chris Meadows' comments on the glaring typo -"mispoke" surely any spell check would have picked this up.

I for one really hope they DO start selling this laptop on the 1 for 2 plan - I would gladly buy one if one went to a good cause - what a fantastic way to do something productive with your interest in technology?

On top of which - just think of the potential of all these kids out there in terms of adding to the diversity already a major force for good on the internet.

This is by far the most interested, good hearted and USFUL project I've seen in many years in the industry.

Many of my colleagues agree - we'd all buy one, possibly more - not just for the kit, but because we'd be bringing a technology that has changed OUR lives to those who need it more.

I think it'd be a mistake not to do the scheme which was mentioned in the article.

Mark Hinge

  • 13.
  • At 09:03 PM on 11 Jan 2007,
  • Anonymous wrote:

I would be happy to buy a couple of these computers ! !

Hi there,
I actually posted a question on the OLPC wiki in which I asked whether I could buy such a notebook myself. I'm living in Switzerland and first heard of that 100$ notebook project (which I absolutely support) when I saw it on the BBC program "Click". Well, because 100$ is really cheap for such a machine and this project is all about helping less fortunate children in the developing world I proposed the idea that I would pay double the price to buy one. That way they could actually give one of them to a child for free. I also said that this would prevent people from selling it on auctioning sites to people who aren't eligible. My question was answered on same day with a clear no, and that I wasn't the only one who had asked them to buy one for an increased price. Well, it's a pitty but they will have their reasons I thought. That was on January 5th 2007. There's a link to my question in the "URL" field of this post.

I was all the more surprised, when only a few days later I heard on the BBC World news that they were now actually planning to sell them to the broader public for double the price. I had asked that very same question only like two days earlier on their website and was told that it wasn't going to happen. And they were now even talking of distributing them through ebay. I had pointed that very same thing out as a problem they might face if it wasn't available to the broader public.

This whole story is really strange. Personally, from what they now reply to questions people are asking on their wiki, I would say that they are indeed intending to do that. But then again - how would they change their mind from a strinct no to a tv-anouncement supporting it in only 2 days.

Well, I still hope they really intend to do that. I'd buy one of them, that's for sure.

  • 15.
  • At 10:14 PM on 11 Jan 2007,
  • Elizabeth wrote:

I'd buy one for the price of two. It would be a good way to get a developer's kit so I can work toward making sure my educational software will work on the device, and fund one going to the kids actually needing one at the same time.

As far as people reselling them goes -- if they're that popular, make enough for everyone who wants one, at the same price or close to it. Flood the market. Then there won't be as much of a temptation to sell them. (I think the contrasting colors are still a good idea, though-- even if they are readily available for a reasonable price, someone would still pay a cut-rate price for one if there was a black market, and some kids would end up with no computer who were supposed to have one.)

  • 16.
  • At 12:30 AM on 12 Jan 2007,
  • Rob Smith wrote:

Damage has been done.

I appreciate the efforts that this journalist has gone to in putting the story straight but having read this during the day I spoke passionately this evening to some school governors and a Parent / Teachers meeting about what an epiphany this was for the education system.
There is definately a market for them. However thanks to this story the good name of the BBC will be taken less seriously in future.

  • 17.
  • At 12:34 AM on 12 Jan 2007,
  • Andew Norris wrote:

I understand the point about people selling them on. But this is a problem well worth solving. We cannot just give up at the first hurdle! One solution would be to have different colored cases, as well as having it registered so people can tell whether it is a stolen machine. A registration on a central server would work well. Who would not want to check that they have a stolen one? True it could be "chipped" to remove the ID. Or a false ID given. But all false IDs could be checked easily. As only one person at a time would be registered. The point is: who would want to buy a stolen one? Few people would want a machine that had been stolen or sold by a poor family. It would be against most people's morals. This gives the OLPC project a unique form of protection. But they must must set up a system to make checking possible. I think I have found the solution! This will bring in lots of extra income.

  • 18.
  • At 12:48 AM on 12 Jan 2007,
  • Paul Kerton wrote:

As an eLearning Manager for a UK Primary school, I would more than welcome the possibility of purchasing these at my school. Not only could we have great ICT kit for the pupils to use, but at around £200 per machine, we could buy 3 of these for every 1 Windows laptop, have all the basics required to teach the pupils the computer skills they need (instead of being a giant Microsoft Office training centre) and be in the knowledge that the 90 we brought are helping another 90 pupils in the third world become computer literate also. We'd just need to issue cheap USB pen drives to pupils to store their work instead of large networked servers.

Once upon a time Acorns were the staple of schools, not relying on the Microsoft dominance. These at a low cost compared, and yet still giving the pupils all the technology they need, would be a literal god send.

  • 19.
  • At 02:55 AM on 12 Jan 2007,
  • Rick wrote:

Sounds like a great idea (true or untrue) but as an IS professional working in the field of Internet Safety, my concern is with the idea that for a relatively small sum the public can get the email address of a child in a developing nation who they know is online. Now of course you can get the same thing off MySpace etc, but here the relationship is being facilitated by an otherwise reputable organisation which is in effect acting as a trusted third party! I think that one needs to be rethunk.

  • 20.
  • At 08:37 AM on 12 Jan 2007,

Great but i would like to see the product guys are talking about. Is a good idea to sell the products at the cost of $100 - $150. But my question is, is it only vallied for those that are in United State only or is it World Wide? if world wide, i will like to know when the products are going to be sell and how to send the money to you and how to recieve the products in Nigeria, because i would like to get one for myself in Nigeria.
Please mail me and tell me how to go about it.

  • 21.
  • At 09:45 AM on 12 Jan 2007,
  • Robert Leather wrote:

I wonder what the poor of the third world will do with a laptop? Sell it for food perhaps?

They won't be looking on the internet because the WiFi infrastructure for broadband access will simply not exist. And if anyone imagines that their are adequate telephone lines to support dial up access are sadly deluded.

I'd also be worried that people with the $100 laptops will be targets for criminals. It's not like $100 is a small amount. For a number of counties this equates to half a years wages.

I just can't help but think that its one of those exercises and sounds like a good idea. But hasn't been thought through.

  • 22.
  • At 11:43 AM on 12 Jan 2007,
  • CS Zeng wrote:

Well if it is going to a good cause, then the idea of buying two and one going to me and one for a child in the Third World, then that is fine. These laptops teach children what technology is all about and adapting with less to do more. That should be what education is about. Despite Apple's RED iPod is their way of doing their bit. Perhaps I think better of them if they'd bothered to take the lead in $100 laptop project. An Apple low cost computer might have helped their image.

  • 23.
  • At 11:52 AM on 12 Jan 2007,
  • Chris Wright wrote:

This is scary. It wasn't the representative of the laptop iniative that made the mistake, it was the BBC that twisted the story. The fact that this reporter actually believes that they are in the right makes me wonder about how many other stories are fabrications of the truth. The representative said 'hopefully', not 'will', 'can' or certaintly. Your headline was misleading, end of story. It played on the fact that you well know that a lot of people will read the headline, form an opinion from that headline, and then read the full story in that context - leading to a misleading impression of reality even if the actual substance of the article was basically correct.

  • 24.
  • At 02:24 PM on 12 Jan 2007,
  • Alex Muñoz wrote:

"One Laptop Per Child is aiming to change the world for the better"
What about the million children around the world starving, with no electricity, no water and no food?
What utility can a laptop have for them?
That has to be one of the most stupid slogans ever.

  • 25.
  • At 03:36 PM on 12 Jan 2007,
  • Andrew Martin wrote:

The executive told you the laptop was going on sale to the public and that's what you reported. He then withdrew what he'd said, and this is what you should have reported. By changing your story it makes it look like you were at fault and the original story should never have been published.

Now you are open to every company spinning you a great story, whether it's true or not.

  • 26.
  • At 04:37 PM on 12 Jan 2007,
  • Jamie Tait wrote:

Good to see the doom-mongers out in force on both laptop and the BBC reporting what a combination. I am not sure where to start, but the BBC reporting seems as good a place as any.

This is scary. It wasn't the representative of the laptop iniative that made the mistake, it was the BBC that twisted the story.-Chris Wright

I am sorry Mr Wright but if a now corrected story about selling laptops scares you then please don’t click on the BBC News site or any News site for that matter, you may never sleep soundly again.

  • 27.
  • At 09:07 PM on 12 Jan 2007,
  • Vincent Stevenson wrote:

Puh-lease people...Chill!

Misspoke, misspeak, misspuck. Who cares? I never heard the world tumbling down around my ears. Also, "Journo-babble" and "...the good name of the BBC wil be taken less seriously in future." C'mon folks, give the pedantry a rest. And yes, there are starving children for whom a laptop may seem worthless. However, think along the lines of the analogy of the fishing rod vs. a fish.

Anyhow Darren thanks for the career insight.

  • 28.
  • At 11:11 AM on 14 Jan 2007,
  • Paul wrote:

I'd buy three to keep one. See

I wonder how much they would bring if they were auctioned on ebay - they are so cute! And if you've never tried linux before, you are in for a treat.

  • 29.
  • At 12:34 PM on 15 Jan 2007,
  • John Hargreaves wrote:

"I am sorry Mr Wright but if a now corrected story about selling laptops scares you then please don’t click on the BBC News site or any News site for that matter, you may never sleep soundly again." - Jamie Tait

I think Jamie Tait might have slightly missed the point, if the BBC is prepared to deliberately mislead the public on a relatively simple matter such as this then how do you know that anything you click on at BBC news or any other site is actually accurate: that is what's scary - unless you are one of those people who blindly trusts our so-called free press in their country!

The reporters attitude reminds me of 1984's 'doublespeak'!

  • 30.
  • At 08:09 AM on 29 Jan 2007,
  • Dennis Hanchar wrote:

This OLPC is an outworking
of Allan Kays quest for
a DynaBook (a Dynamic Book)

This is scary. It wasn't the diplomat of the laptop inactive that made the mistake, it was the BBC that twisted the story.-Chris Wright. It would be beside most people's morals. This gives the OLPC project a unique form of protection

Nevertheless, even GPRS is good enough to pick up emails, and a spot of web browsing (If you can tolerate the longer time it takes pages to load). A fall-back to GPRS is also much preferable to losing connectivity altogether, which is what happens if you stray too far from a Wi-Fi access point.

Post a comment

Please note Name and E-mail are required.

Comments are moderated, and will not appear on this weblog until the author has approved them.

Required (not displayed)

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites