From Gutenberg to intelligence

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Some recent government intelligence has been shown to be severely inaccurate. It has also been accused of mixing fact with spin and propaganda. Authority always has a problem with independent truth. Gutenberg and the early printers ran up against the Catholic church. In 2004 British, Australian and U.S. intelligence agencies found themselves being hauled off to the political cleaners because their "truth" proposition was shown, at least in part, to be wrong. How much this was due to political motivation and influence is in dispute.

Now questions are being asked about the process, value and validity of the whole information cycle.

The general public, from the taxpayer to the struggling artist, currently believes the economics of news to be close to zero and its truth quotient an historic fiction. Passing over the extremes of Web conspiracy, it is true that many Westerners don't believe what they read, and they certainly don't expect to pay much for it.

This is being compounded by Internet search engines delivering increasingly more specific free news and information searches positioned beside relevant advertising. They are rapidly becoming the free, controlled-circulation "magazines" of our age.

How does the publisher stand above the Web conspiracies and publish verifiable facts and information?

From a traditional-some would say old-school-publisher's viewpoint, we at Jane's take this problem extremely seriously.

Jane's has been publishing geopolitical, defense and security information for more than a century. We have clients ranging from the Red Cross to the CIA.

Jane's response, formulated some years ago, is to accept that the game has completely changed, been remade by electronic technology and that the effects on our audience are substantial and are rarely obvious even to them. Consumer media-from TV, radio, electronic or print-has been reducing information to advertorial wallpaper.

Over the years, Jane's has upset governments and commercial organizations of all colors and descriptions for telling what we believe to be the truth. Some of the organizations we report on have on occasion accepted what we say about them as true, and then promptly classified the piece of information, thereby making it unavailable to our readers.

Recently some of our information was cited in Western intelligence reports from New Zealand to Washington. We covered everything from the terrible events of September 2001-many months earlier we were warning that Al Qaeda was training commercial pilots-through the issues of security after a coalition "victory" and the likelihood of a civil war in Iraq.

Looking more broadly at the cultures we operate within, we have tracked some larger trends. The most profound being that the world now believes it is engulfed in information overload and that, along with many other factions in post-modernism, advertising for many has the same value as editorials and news.

To support our brand, our new strategy had to incorporate uniqueness, independence and verifiable information. The solution, which was primarily subscription-driven, had to be dynamic and take account of the changing requirements and technology upgrades of our customers. It had to address and, where possible, anticipate their needs.

Today, our evolving service offers the subscriber an integrated electronic seat that is supported by interconnected hard copy, relevant advertising and client-specific consultancy services in varying ranges of price and complexity, averaging $8,000 per user per year.

This offering is based on one-to-one client research in which we look at the client's work flow and practices as much as their general information, advertising and specific information consultancy requirements.

We are therefore continually honing, defining and understanding the customer's need based on our own assessment of the geopolitical environment. This has meant that we spend more time and energy finding the unique and more difficult-to-obtain information. We continually validate our own assessments against reality and other published material. This is done in real time in parallel to our legal checking process.

We then ensure our material is cross-referenced and electronically linked, actively assisting the customer to create reports very efficiently. This service usually raises our clients' productivity by 40% to 50%. However, we are well aware that this service is only the next stop on an expanding information hub. M

Alfred Rolington is the CEO of Jane's Information Group. He can be reached at [email protected]

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