Harry McCracken, while commenting on serial Apple product rumor shit-stirrer Digitime’s response to his earlier analysis of their shitty track record, makes a point that I’ve been trying to articulate for some time:
In a strange way, Digitimes also reminds me of the Dear Abby and Ann Landers of 1990s pseudonymous tech rumormongering, InfoWorld’s Robert X. Cringely and PC Week’s Spencer Katt. (Spencer Katt seems to have gone to the great litterbox in the sky, but yes, I know that there are still no less than two writers still plying the Cringely trade. Both of them are among the numerous Cringelys employed by InfoWorld when it was a dead-tree publication; neither of them, however, is a gossip columnist of the sort that Cringely once was.)
Back in the day, Cringely and Katt cheerfully repeated gossip they’d heard and didn’t deny that it was gossip. Here, for instance, is a Cringely — not either of the two current ones — in 1997, blithely reporting that sources at Sun say Apple will move the Mac to Intel processors. It didn’t happen — well, not for another eight years — but that was okay, since the tidbit began and ended in as a one-paragraph Cringely item. No other news source would have dreamed of putting the rumor on its front page based on Cringely’s word.
McCracken gets straight to the heart of my complaints about the current state of the Apple rumor mill.
Once upon a time speculating on Apple’s future plans and products was a fun little diversion for those of us who followed the company. In the end, though, we didn’t take the rumors any more seriously than we would stories about Bat Boy. Somewhere along the line that changed. Now even the most ludicrous Apple product rumors are bandied about with utter credulity as “reports” by a tech press that is increasingly desperate for page-views.
The thing is, when these rumors are treated with the same gravity as actual sourced reporting it causes demonstrable harm, both to Apple and to Apple’s customers. Apple is harmed, obviously, by the insane backlash from the blogoratti when a newly announced Apple product doesn’t live up to each and every bullshit rumor published about it (the iPhone 4S being the canonical example). Apple’s customers are harmed when they make purchasing decisions on “reports” based on nothing more than pure speculation and the wisdom of the Mystic Orient™.
Ultimately what I and many of my fellow travelers are advocating for isn’t the eradication of Apple product rumors. We’re simply asking that sites that do report rumor and speculation properly frame those stories as such. Speculating about new Apple products can be fun. Arguing over who has divined the exact pixel count of the next iPhone’s screen is a tedious bore.