Steve Job’s: Liver and let live

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Repeating an unsourced report in the Wall Street Journal, all the major news sources, including the BBC, are saying that Steve Jobs is recovering from a liver transplant and is expected to return to work at Apple soon.

According to John Gruber, odd rumours (that he’s refused to repeat) have been circulating for a while. Most of them involved Jobs moving temporarily from California to Tennessee (there’s a song there somewhere) for treatment. Some said this was for his old pancreatic cancer, but the story that’s emerged from the WSJ makes more sense.

I was always concerned about Jobs’ previous cancer treatment, because although he made the expected recovery, doctors only ever talk about “the five-year survival rate.” Lo and behold, 5 years later, Jobs apparently has serious health problems. A doctor (who didn’t treat Jobs) quoted by the WSJ said it was common for patients who had the type of pancreatic cancer that Jobs did to find another organ affected – usually the liver.

Reading between the lines, then, it seems that Mr Jobs had liver cancer which has been treated by transplant. The five-year survival rate for liver transplant patients is around 75%. Note, again, that we’re only talking about a five-year survival, which is a lot of extra years for someone who would have died, but not so many for anyone in perfect health and in the prime of life.

Where’s the Media Studies angle here? I hear you ask. Four aspects of this story are worth thinking about. First of all, Steve Jobs is one of the most influential figures in new media. More influential than Bill Gates. Bill Gates has more money and his company has been more financially successful, but Microsoft are not an innovative company. They’ve almost never done anything that hadn’t been done by somebody else first. Apple, on the other hand, have for most of their history had the opposite problem: they’ve usually been too far ahead and have wasted whole product lines on a world that wasn’t prepared for them. That has all changed since 1998, and the person driving the company forward since then, since his return from NeXTile, has been Jobs.

Secondly, this is an interesting example of news management. Every story about Jobs’ health affects Apple’s share price, and this story was published in the WSJ on a Friday. That gives the world a whole weekend to speculate about it before Wall Street opens again on Monday morning. In other words, although the story has no named source, it looks like a well-timed leak.

Thirdly, this story was leaked published on the day that the new iPhone 3GS was released. In other words, this slightly worrying Apple story is sharing space and time with one of the most successful product launches Apple has had, and they’ve had a few of those. In other words, nobody but a crazy person would sell Apple shares after seeing the queues outside Apple stores for the new iPhone – in the middle of a recession.

Finally, consider the source. The WSJ is the only news journal that can get away (at the moment) with charging for its online content. People who deal shares for a living trust it as a source and will pay for its news coverage and commentary. Other newspapers are unable to do this. And it’s even amazing that the WSJ still does, given that the story has been picked up and repeated by every other news agency (including blogs like this) within hours, and all free of charge.

I love this last sentence of the WSJ article:

During his leave, Mr. Jobs has remained involved in key aspects of the company and reviewed products and product plans from home. He has also been seen at Apple’s headquarters, according to people who have seen him there.

He’s been seen, according to those who have seen him?

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