Y2K: Are Citizens Getting the Straight Scoop?

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NEW YORK -- Are news organizations telling it straight when it comes to possible threats posed by the Year 2000 computer problem? More to the point, are they getting a straight word from business and government leaders?

These were among the questions batted around at a Feb. 23 conference held here for journalists on the dynamics of the millennium bug. The answers from speakers were sobering. Experts raised doubts about whether the media is getting -- and thus giving -- accurate information on the state of Y2K preparations.

Edward Yourdon, a software engineering consultant and author of the best- selling 'Time Bomb 2000,' said reporters need to be more skeptical in reporting on the Y2K claims made by private industry and government officials.

'When a company says it is making progress, you should ask: 'How do you measure progress? Money spent? Do you have independent verification of progress?' advised Yourdon, chairman and co-founder of The Cutter Consortium in Arlington, Mass.

According to Yourdon, a red flag should go up in the journalist's mind if a company says it began working on the Y2K bug as late as 1998, claiming the problem is now under control. Yourdon explained that a business would not be able to tell if the problem is under control until testing is done, and testing only occurs at the last stage of correcting the Y2K problem.

'The single most important reason that software projects finish late is that they start late,' Yourdon added, citing data culled from software industry research.

More than 70 journalists and editors from around the country were listening intently, including representatives from national media outlets such as CBS's 60 Minutes, CNN and the NBC Nightly News as well as regional newspapers in Ohio, Maine and California.

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