When a story isn’t a story

Jim Balsille, and likely his top sales team, must have been suffering some serious palipitations last week when a tech news site ran a big headline, and big story, about how a big Research in Motion (RIM) customer was considering switching off the BlackBerry platform for Apple’s new iPhone.

A tech leader at HSBC, the world’s biggest bank, was quoted in a story as saying the company was thinking about moving thousands of users off BlackBerries to the iPhone.

This would be big news, and, like most other tech reporters I suspect, I jumped on the phone to get details.

But the news was that it wasn’t news at all. It wasn’t true.

As one person I called, who asked to remain anonymous, told me “there’s not a snowball’s chance in hell” it was happening.

I could almost hear the sigh of collective relief at RIM, and likely within HSBC’s compliance division since there’s no comparison yet to be made between the iPhone’s security abilities and the BlackBerry, though Apple has done a better job on its firmware 2.0 and will likely keep improving on that moving forward.

I’m not naming the publication that ran the story because the purpose of my blog is not to take cheap shots.

No one is perfect, and no publication is immune from having to correct itself now and then.

We’re human.

The problem is the fact that so many Web sites took the story and ran with it, repeating the erroneous news all over the Internet, from blogs to publications, and so few took the time to make two quick calls to verify whether it was actually happening.

The lesson from this is that we — all in the tech industry, those who create news and those who report on news — all need to keep a skeptical eye.

We also have to fight the urge to jump on a bandwagon. We can’t let the very competitive pace of online journalism let us los track of the need to verify and doublecheck before we put words to Web pages.

Yea, I’m being preachy. I’m allowed.

But I respect my industry and colleagues who follow the golden rule of getting information first-hand — the old fashion way.

After all, it’s still amazing how powerful the written word can be, even when it’s not on paper.

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