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“Rumor” about Jobs, a symptom of things to come

09 Sep

Steve Jobs brushed it off with a slide. He used the Mark Twain line to note that the rumor of his death had been greatly exaggerated.

The rumor, was not a rumor but a publishing mistake –going live with a story that should have been behind a firewall. Bloomberg is not the first to make this new-media error.

The copy had the usual safeguards: “HOLD FOR RELEASE – DO NOT USE – HOLD FOR RELEASE – DO NOT USE.” There were placeholders such as “IF STOCK DROPS” leading into a sentence “…The decline is no surprise to investors…” All good intentioned.

But in the rush to do things to meet unforgiving deadlines, to hit the newsstands, and sate the digital newsfeeds, publishing must take these risks. Are we moving too fast, where we might accidentally push the button that could affect the stock price of a company?

Rumors –especially the online kind– are nothing new. United Airlines’ stock was a victim of a rumor just this week, while Yahoo! (temporarily) benefitted from the Microsoft takeover rumor that turned out to be more than a rumor.

Rumor is being slipped into the PR toolbox because it goes well with viral. Recently, there was one about the –ready for this?- Apple Nano iPhone. If you replace “rumor” with “forecast” a lot of this might make sense. The Nano iPhone story was based on a “forecast” using “unnamed sources in the supply channel.”

As we accelerate our marketing, our PR and how we generate news about organizations we represent, news, forecasting and speculating could begin to blur.

Dan Lyons, who once created the now-retired Fake Steve blog, didn’t mince his words describing Gawker, which republished the Bloomberg gaffe as “filthy hacks,” ending also with “Great work, Bloomberg. You dopes.”

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