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When Tech Journalists Attack: Fake Steve Jobs, Gizmodo Lash Out At Jobs Coverage

The reporting about Steve Jobs' health has been the very picture of a media feeding frenzy. We've seen rumors and speculation reported as fact, and streams of self-righteousness pouring forth from keyboards. Three examples hit my in-box today, from Gizmodo, Fake Steve Jobs, and Bloomberg.
The reporting about Steve Jobs' health has been the very picture of a media feeding frenzy. We've seen rumors and speculation reported as fact, and streams of self-righteousness pouring forth from keyboards. Three examples hit my in-box today, from Gizmodo, Fake Steve Jobs, and Bloomberg.Brian Lam at Gizmodo flips out. In a rant filled with ALL CAPS, EXCLAMATION MARKS, AND F-BOMBS, he says that Gizmodo's reporting rumors about Jobs' health was good journalism, but the act of reporting rumors on Jobs' health is sleazy. Or something like that. It doesn't really make sense to me either.

Newsweek's Dan Lyons, a.k.a. "Fake Steve Jobs," condemns journalists who are suck-ups and sycophants to Apple and perpetuated the lie that Jobs was fine when it was obvious that he wasn't.

I can't speak for all Apple journalists and bloggers, only myself. Yes, I am a fan of Apple. That doesn't prevent me from criticizing it on occasion, but my criticism is usually outweighed by praise.

When a company is making great products, and bringing in profits, it's hard to find negative things to write about it. I don't have to cover for Apple -- there isn't much to cover up.

Lyons is right that Apple is unique in that it doesn't grant much access to journalists who cover the company. When I covered other companies, I talked to them every day. I talk to Apple a couple of times a year. That seems to make Lyons angry. I'm not happy about it, but I'm not angry either. That's Apple's choice.

My favorite Lyons moment in the Jobs coverage was when he appeared on CNBC earlier this week and got involved in a five-way shouting match with four other journalists about the Jobs coverage. You can't even understand a single word they're saying, they're just yelling at each other. I was sorry that they weren't actually in the same room as one another, so we could have seen them get in a big sissy slapfight.

Watch the video here -- it takes 'em a few minutes to get warmed up, but it's worth the wait.

As for access to Jobs: The first and last time I interviewed Jobs was in 1993 or so, while he was CEO of NeXT. I was interviewing him about a NeXT announcement. Jobs accidently let slip some information about upcoming earnings, and tried to get me not to print it. He said it was off the record. I told him actually, no, it wasn't -- we never agreed to go off the record. I was as polite about it as I could be, but I was firm.

He hung up on me without saying goodbye.

I was pretty flustered. The PR person who set up the call was flustered, too.

And that was the last time I talked to Steve Jobs.

So if being a fanboy and writing positively about Apple gets you access to Steve Jobs, Apple owes me a ton of interviews with The Man, going back about 15 years.

Starting in June, Lyons declared he was convinced that Jobs was very sick, failing fast, because Jobs was very thin at the iPhone 3G introduction.

Likewise, Gizmodo ran an article a couple of weeks ago saying Jobs was failing fast, based on a single interview with one source, someone who'd previously leaked product information.

Lyons and Gizmodo turned out to be right -- but they were still practicing bad journalism, doing bad research and reporting. They got lucky. Just looking at Jobs was not sufficient to tell that he was seriously ill, and you can't run a big story based on a single, anonymous source who might not be in a position to know. If Lyons and Gizmodo continue to report based on rumors and long-distance doctoring, they're going to be wrong more often than they're right.

And speaking of rumors and speculation: Bloomberg.com is reporting that Jobs is considering a liver transplant. Earlier, the service reported that Jobs may be having his pancreas removed.

I expected better journalism from Bloomberg. Basic journalism requires that you identify sources -- even anonymous sources should be identified as specifically as possible. The only attribution in the article about the liver transplant is "people who are monitoring his illness." What the heck does that mean? That could describe me -- I'm "monitoring his illness." I'm doing it on news sites and blogs and social media. That doesn't mean I have any idea what's going on.

The earlier article says he "may be" having his pancreas removed, which "could be" the result of his earlier cancer. Note to Bloomberg: When you have "may be" and "could be" in your lead sentence, you maybe could be don't have a story.

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Sara Peters, Editor-in-Chief, InformationWeek / Network Computing
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