Steve Jobs' Mark Twain Moment: "Reports of My Death..."
The news business can be an ugly business sometimes. Just ask Apple and its CEO Steve Jobs -- the subject of an erroneous obituary report Thursday.
We in the news business sensationalize, we rationalize, we sanitize, we get things wrong, and sometimes we stick with stories far too long.
But the ugly little truth is that the news business can actually (mis-)manage the news itself, ignoring stories that may actually be newsworthy, or holding stories that are ready to go for a better moment in time, or what we call "embargoed news."
And preparing stories way in advance about things we know might happen.
And when they do, we can parade out beautifully complete pieces almost as soon as the news itself breaks. We look like geniuses. How in the world can you have something so perfectly put together within seconds of the actual news hitting the wires? Preparation has its virtues.
And its dangers.
Just ask the folks over at Bloomberg News who made a critical, but I'm sure honest, error. In preparing an advance obituary about Steve Jobs, someone inadvertently hit the "send" key and the "news" hit the wires. Ouch. The 17-page tome captures the phenomenal life and times of Jobs, but it's the contact list and action items for editors at the end that are far more interesting. Gawker.com captured the whole obit. You ought to take a look.
Still, the obit is a little macabre since it follows on the heels of that health scare a few months back, when Steve Jobs appeared on our air, during my interview, and on stage in San Francisco, looking gaunt and frail.
Fellow Tech Titans:
Bill Gates: Microsoft
Larry Ellison: Oracle
Sergey Brin, Larry Page: Google
John Chambers: Cisco Systems
The blogosphere mushroomed with stories about a pancreatic cancer recurrence and Jobs' health became Priority 1 for Apple shareholders, who promptly bailed from the company's stock. Even though company officials maintained he had a routine bug and that he was responding well to treatment, the rumors eclipsed any reasonable understanding of what was going on. Jobs himself would ultimately contact The New York Times in an off-the-record rant that, in a weird way, helped put the issue to bed.
And it was sleeping nicely until the Bloomberg error. Which is unfortunate.
We know that when Jobs passes on, the Bloomberg editors will be contacting long-time friend and Silicon Valley gadfly Heidi Roizen; iPod guru Jonathan Rubenstein; California Attorney General Jerry Brown; Al Gore; Larry Ellison, Bob Iger, Eric Schmidt; Steve Wozniak; Nolan Bushnell; Scott McNealy and many others. A who's who of tech that speaks volumes about who this man was (whoops, IS!) and why he wielded so much influence.
Steve Jobs is not dead. To paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of his death have been greatly exaggerated.
The mistake is really too bad. In this world of instant news, all the time, any place and anywhere, and the reliance on light-speed technology, it is incumbent on all of us in this business to be extra-careful, all the time. And be vigilant about it. Errors will happen. Careless errors. Honest errors. People make mistakes. It's just that nowadays, because of the times in which we live, even tiny errors instantly can become huge. And global.
The pressure to be first is enormous. The responsibility to be right, however, should take precedence. But the Bloomberg error isn't about being right. It's about a mistake. A simple mistake.
It's an awful one, considering the delicate nature of this story: Jobs as CEO, husband, father, friend. And the influence he has over all things Apple and its shareholders. No one likes to hear they're dead, or that they're gonna die. Especially someone who had a real potential brush with death because of a cancer scare. The fact is, we're all going to die. Someday. And the news business knows it.
And in case you think Bloomberg knows more about Jobs' death, or any death for that matter, more than anyone else, consider: They got his birth date right. But they didn't offer a date of death. Phew!
They made a mistake. A yucky one. It could happen to any of us.
Cut 'em some slack.
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