TO: Gizmodo Staff
FROM: Brian Lam
SUBJ: Labeling a Post a Rumor is Not a Free Pass to Write About The Gadget Equivalent of Unicorns
We posted a tip yesterday, labeling it a rumor, that later turned out to be fake. That happens often. But what is totally unacceptable is that the source was 100% unreliable. It shouldn't have even been a post at all.
And sure, you might be upset that Engadget went out of their way to debunk it in a condescending way, but you should really be glad that they're keeping us on our toes. At least that's how I see it. Sure, we print rumors, but we have a responsibility to print "reputable rumors" from reliable sources. We failed that yesterday, and they helped catch us from falling down (even if too proud to name us by name). Besides, we smash their rumors like this every other day or so, and payback is payback. So quit your whining; instead, let's spend the time thinking about our mistakes and how we can improve.
Yesterday's post was printed based on a case of mistaken identity, via a tips email and a bunk google search that painted a 16 year old kid as a google employee. Even if it was Tom Oliveri from Google, how would he know anything about Apple's plans? All thinking points to one thing: This is just not a credible source, and a simple background check would have done wonders. Would you paypal him money and expect him to send it back if you asked?
How should we handle rumors like this one in the future? Same as always. The way you measure the worth of a rumor is still on how much evidence there is to support the rumor, and how credible the source is. Seems like a contradiction, since we're talking about rumors here. Often, there won't be any real facts to stand on. In this case, hedge like crazy. (In this post, we hedged weakly.) Also, Jesus pumped up the post's voice, and length, and dugg it, badged it, and did an image for it. All that effort means that he believed it, wiping away any sort of hedge we made by labeling this a rumor. And because he believed it, the piece carried more weight. Even worse, the post itself had no new information. We'd already speculated that macs and not iPods were coming tomorrow.
These facts, because presented as obvious combinations of the other rumors, passed muster on a seemingly true level. But the source itself utterly failed any level of credibility, and again, it wasn't worth writing up, even labeled as a rumor.
We ran a correction as soon as possible. But I was most upset when I saw that Ars Technica had linked to us, confidently, based on the respect they have for our previous reporting. Sucks.
Mistakes like this happen once in awhile, especially when you've been working 7 days a week, all hours of the night and day, like Jesus has been. Shit happens when you're exhausted and trying to break news. I've done it, too. As always, it comes down to thinking critically and choosing words wisely in the heat of the moment. We should have fun letting the rumors fly -- but with enough caution that we're not playing suckers.