Steve’s fine, but some of the investors needed CPR

I have nothing but deep collegial empathy for the folks at the Bloomberg financial newswire after they accidentally let their pre-prepared Steve Jobs obituary slip momentarily onto the Web yesterday. The sophisticated publishing systems used in newsrooms today have many advantages, but they can also disrupt the old-fashioned, linear workflow with its series of checkpoints and enable more people along the line to accidentally and instantly publish a file before its time, leading to its equally instant dissemination across the Net. Add in the need for news organizations to stand ready with quick responses to scheduled, foreseeable or, in the case of obituaries, inevitable events, and you can expect to see A-matter leaking out on a semi-regular basis.

What’s A-matter? I dunno, boss, whatsamatter with you? (Thank you, thankyouverymuch; I don’t get to do my Chico Marx very often.) A-matter is copy prepared in advance and ready for publication once the event happens and the details can be plugged in. The bank of almost-ready-to-go obits maintained by most news outfits is one example, but A-matter is written for all sorts of stories where thorough background details of an anticipated event can be quickly topped and posted — or sent out into the world with a wayward click. For a few hours last Saturday, for example, the Web site of the Los Angeles Times was displaying seven headlines saying Barack Obama had chosen everyone from Joe Biden to Hillary Clinton to Kathleen Sibelius as his running mate, each story prepared for a quick response to those possibilities.

If there’s a lesson to be heeded here (aside from maybe building some more “Are you really, really sure” confirmation boxes into the publishing systems), it’s that in world where mistaken information can get out ever more quickly, a measured reaction is that much more important. If you’re a member of the commenting class, it’s tempting to pile on when you spot a real talker of a tidbit, even if it’s a single-source item from a fast and loose site. It happened just this week when Valleywag reported that Google was canceling its free dinners for employees, and dozens of blogs jumped aboard, full of schadenfreude and speculation. By the next day, of course, all those blogs had to backpedal when the facts turned out to be slightly less eyebrow-raising. The old-school journalist in me figures that in a time when mistaken or unsubstantiated information can make the headlines so easily, a proportionately greater effort must be expended to control the knee jerk. Better right than first.


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  • This reminds me of the “Applegate” scenario when Engadget announced there was going to be a delay in the release of the iPhone. The market reaction was insane but then bounced back again. I feel sorry for the poor saps that lost during that brief period of time. The stock did swing down today. Are people still not convinced Steve Jobs is alive?