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Monday, December 13, 2004

Good and poor quality business reporting

Nice article by Steve Lohr this morning in the New York Times on the IBM-Lenovo deal. Just as I thought: "I.B.M. Sought a China Partnership, Not Just a Sale" (NYT, 12/13/04, C1, 6). Too often the graphs that accompany business reporting cover such a brief period of time that it's difficult or impossible to discern the long-term trends. This story offers a nice exception: a chart of the sources of IBM revenue that actually covers 20-odd years (1982-2003). It shows clearly a relative shift away from hardware between 1988 and 1994.

Now if the chart had only presented the data in real as well as current dollars. In current dollars, it shows IBM's total revenue increasing 159% (from $34.4 billion in 1982 to $89.1 billion in 2003), which averages out at 7.57% annually. But in 2003 dollars (deflated with the CPI), its 1982 revenue stood at $65.6 billion, so in real terms its revenue increased only 35.8% or 1.7% annually over the twenty-one year period. Rather a different picture.

Maybe I'm just a bit sleepy this morning but I cannot figure out what Andrew Ross Sorkin's article, "Icahn Accuses A Hedge Fund Of Stock Manipulation" (NYT, 12/13/04, C1, 2), has to do with buying shareholder votes. It refers to the allegation twice, mentioning it in the third paragraph and ending the article with this: "But there has been a long debate about whether shareholder voting rights must be tied to shareholder ownership." But the article never makes explicit how this issue relates to Icahn's dispute with the companies in question.

Last item of note: M.I.T.'s Technology Review has been revamped once again (NYT, 12/13/04, C4). As the reporter, Victoria Shannon, notes, the last go-around in 1998 "injected a cheerleading breathlessness into its coverage that left some academics cold." Its rah-rah approach to technology reporting certainly left me feeling frigid. But what is that at the end of the article? "'The earlier Technology Review was more likely to look at the social and political dimensions of science and technology.' [The Review's editor] Mr. [Jason] Pontin promised a grounded approach this time. 'We want to be skeptical.'" Maybe Pontin was quoted inacurately, but if not, how could he possibly equate attention to "the social and political dimensions of science and technology" with a lack of skepticism? Mr. Pontin clearly needs to spend some time talking with the faculty in M.IT.'s own Program in Science, Technology, and Society. (Is a disclaimer called for here? I'm an alum of the program.) For more balanced coverage, I prefer Wired.

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