Lies, Damn Lies, and Citizen Journalism

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CNN have come unstuck because someone posted a completely untrue story about Steve Jobs being rushed to hospital on their web site.

At a time when share prices are sensitive to any and all rumours in a system that is totally irrational in the first place, this was bound to lead to a rush to sell Apple stock — wiping “millions” of pretend money off the pretend value of Apple Inc.

This prank “report” was probably from an Apple-hater, but it could equally have been from someone looking to clean up on the stock exchange. Of course, none of this would happen if the share dealers weren’t in a state of hysteria and panic. We should all collectively line up and give them a slap in the face: “Pull yourself together!”

on the BBC site, the story has led to a wider debate (in the comments to the story) about fact checking and the nature of 24 hour news. This one caught my eye:

I was involved in the Buncefield Oil Depot explosion in 2005 and it was briefly reported as a plane crash on BBC News 24, based on one bloke who thought it sounded like one.

For the next few hours newscasters were saying "initial reports of a plane crash were unfounded". Initial reports? You made it up, based on rumour, with the motive to be the first channel to broadcast that tantalising nugget of information.

Basically, broadcast rumour to try and be the first with "Breaking News". Breaking News is like breaking wind, its usually badly timed and it stinks

via Read all about it here.

Meanwhile, I’m also pondering the (irrational) belief, apparent from Wall St’s reaction, that, without Steve Jobs, Apple has nothing. Jobs is not an engineer, nor a designer, nor a programmer. He had almost no involvement in the creation of the original Mac (he was wasting his time on the expensive and pointless Lisa), and although he gives a good speech and carries around his famous “reality distortion field,” the Apple product line-up has been designed and built by Apple engineers.

I would have thought there were any number of people champing at the bit to lead Apple — it’s hardly a poisoned chalice, not like being offered the job in 1995-6, when Gil Amelio took over.

In fact, if I were on the Apple board, I’d be looking for Jobs to step down, not because he’s actually ill, but because all anyone has to do is start a rumour about his health (I knew this would happen after 5 years, by the way) to damage the Apple share price. Of course, if the press showed a little responsibility in the reporting of these rumours they wouldn’t have any effect.

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3 thoughts on “Lies, Damn Lies, and Citizen Journalism

  1. As with politics, the business world seems obsessed with personality sometimes. Doubtful that the wheels would fall off any of these giant institutions when one person leaves, although it would be different for a start-up company of course.

  2. I have to disagree with your assessment of Jobs’ importance to Apple. Would his leaving kill the company? No. But he’s more than just a personality. For example during his exile from Apple he designed a rather brilliant competitive system. Beyond that he has done a superb job of steering Apple into the right markets.

  3. Rob

    @Discover – yes, it’s the cult of personality, and a kind of mythologising of modern business – creating 19thC-style tycoons out of the modern corporate world.

    @lucid – I’m an admirer of Jobs, and I love the success he brought to a company that was on its knees. He brought renewed focus and a much needed sense of direction. However, while he may have been CEO, I dispute that he was the architect of everything at NeXT. For a start, NeXT and MacOS X are both based on UNIX underpinnings – for which we can thank Berkeley. And NeXT employed software engineers, just like Apple does. I’m not in favour of individuals getting sole credit for collective endeavour. And though the cube looked wonderful, it took a long time and a lot of engineering for NeXT to become a useable version of OS X – the first few iterations had novelty value but the SPOD was an ever-present feature.

    Still, a strong personality was required to drive through the necessary OS changes at Apple (and later chip changes).

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