Drawing the Line: How We’ll Cover Steve Jobs’ Health | iLounge Article

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Drawing the Line: How We’ll Cover Steve Jobs’ Health

This morning’s revelation that Apple CEO Steve Jobs will be taking a second medical leave of absence in two years has led to many legitimate questions, including those surrounding Apple’s succession plans, as well as the impact that any extended absence might have on the company’s product pipeline. However, another type of question reared its ugly head again immediately after the announcement: the specific status of Steve Jobs’ health, down to the nitty-gritty of his medical condition. Though we report every day on the ups and downs of Apple and its products, we have strong reservations about reporting on its personnel and their personal lives, even when the stories might be considered interesting reading.

First, a little history. The timing of Jobs’ 2009 leave of absence announcement came less than 10 days after he penned an open letter blaming recent weight loss on a “hormone imbalance” and stated that he would continue as CEO during his recovery. This change came as a shock to many observers, who felt that Apple and Jobs were being overly secretive. Somewhat consequently, coverage of Jobs’ health in the months following was intense, with doctors speculating on possible causes without ever having examined the man in person, and the quantity of discussion came to rival Apple’s most anticipated product introductions. The quality of discussion, however, did not. Reports regarding Jobs’ illness crossed a line that became more like gossip than journalism. Only when he was ready to return to work did the world discover that Jobs had received a liver transplant, a revelation that served to spark further debate over Apple’s disclosure policies.

Some people are more concerned with Apple’s stock price than the human side of this story. These people suggest that the details of Jobs’ health are of material interest to those invested in the company, and basically any and all information related to his health should be immediately disclosed, personal privacy be damned. As you might have guessed, we don’t share this view. Regardless of our relationship with Apple, our experiences with its CEO, or our particular feelings about any of the company’s products, Steve Jobs is a man with a limited lifespan, a family, and a reasonable expectation of privacy. As one of the technology industry’s most respected innovators, he has done more for this world in the last 30 years than virtually anyone reading these words right now. He has not gone out of his way to attract attention outside of his work at Apple. And he has pleaded for journalists to respect his and his family’s privacy, something that anyone who has been through medical issues of their own should appreciate on a human level.

Going forward, we will not be posting the kind of speculative stories—“Doctor says tumor could have metastasized again,” “Jobs seen looking frail prior to announcement”—that other publications, including those well-connected to Apple, seem to be fine with publishing. These stories may generate traffic and discussion, but apart from the obvious point that Jobs has limited his role with Apple and may not return to active duty in the near future—points that were made clearly in Apple’s media advisory—they have little value as anything other than tabloid fodder. When and if there is official, concrete news concerning Jobs’ health—news that we genuinely hope will be positive—we’ll publish it, assuming that there’s good reason to believe that it will have an actual impact on Apple as a company or its products going forward. There’s a fine line between reporting news and mercilessly repeating gossip, a line which will no doubt be crossed multiple times in the months ahead. We’re not going to participate in that, and hope that other publications will make the same pledge. At some point, human decency should prevail over pageviews, and this would be a very good time to start.

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Comments

1

And let’s not forget the jerks at rags like the Wall Street Journal who only care about selling papers and getting hits

Posted by ibeartouch on January 17, 2011 at 12:56 PM (PDT)

2

I wholeheartedly agree.  No one deserves to be hounded when they are trying to get better. No one deserves to have rumors and half truths flying circulating about your health.  Well done, iLounge!  You are a class act!

Posted by Paul on January 17, 2011 at 1:02 PM (PDT)

3

Well said.

Posted by peterc on January 17, 2011 at 2:16 PM (PDT)

4

A fine article, well said. it’s good to read something with genuine humanity at it’s core.
Good ethics.

Posted by Cyberman in nr Heathrow, London on January 17, 2011 at 2:19 PM (PDT)

5

If only we could get the rest of the media to be as sensible.

Posted by haggis on January 17, 2011 at 3:30 PM (PDT)

6

My best wishes for a speedy recovery Mr Jobs.

Posted by alan on January 17, 2011 at 3:58 PM (PDT)

7

While I like the sentiment of your story the truth is your article still contains the very keywords that will generate you large amounts of traffic. You may or may not have intentionally done this. The end result is the same you just took a different stance on the same topic. It’s done on news / blog sites all the time to attract the readers looking for information. Say for instance you write about “Twilight” you can write good things or you can write bad things either way it draws the readers.

Then you have all the commenters adding their 2 cents more juicy keywords.

I sincerely hope he gets well I truly believe he is one of the most remarkable people in history! He is a dreamer and a visionary and we are all lucky for the inspiration and progress he has brought to an entire industry.

Get well soon

PS Sorry if I sound cynical but I know many reporters and bloggers I know their game.

Posted by ed on January 17, 2011 at 5:08 PM (PDT)

8

#7: We don’t write stories for keyword value. Never have, either. Your cynicism is understandable, however, which is the exact reason we wrote and posted this piece - in hopes of stopping a recurrence of what happened last time he went on medical leave.

Posted by Jeremy Horwitz in East Amherst, NY, USA on January 17, 2011 at 5:43 PM (PDT)

9

I agree with most of the sentiments expressed. You can respect Jobs’ privacy and are doing so with your “only report official, concrete news about Jobs’ health” position.

There are few minor things I disagree with, or would like to clarify.
1. The Federal government has passed laws, that are regulated and enforced by the Securities and Exchange Commission, covering many aspects of publicly traded corporations. Whether you agree or disagree with these laws, or whether these laws require distasteful things to be done, is irrelevant. These laws require material information about companies to be publicly disclosed.

2. I agree that “Doctor says tumor could have metastasized again,” is not something that should be reported. That’s just speculation. But “Jobs seen looking frail prior to announcement” is verifiable, publicly available information that some people (not me) would like to know.

Posted by Patrick on January 17, 2011 at 9:27 PM (PDT)

10

Very good article, totally agree. Thank you for being human first, and not just a site dedicated to generating clicks anyway you can. Very impressed.

Posted by Alex on January 18, 2011 at 2:09 AM (PDT)

11

Bravo. Seriously. The New York Times and other such “news” publications would benefit from editorial management with such ethics as you have demonstrated here. I too an such a journalist - and I have left the industry I once treasured due to the type of unjustified sensationalism you so accurately describe here. It is indeed unfortunate that we cannot obliterate the public’s appetite for it.

Posted by Tammy on January 18, 2011 at 1:10 PM (PDT)

12

#7 - Why would anybody write about Twilight?  iLounge’s policy of not covering Steve’s health gossip should be adopted by all sites, and extended to a universal ban on Twilight.  I’m sure we’re all in agreement.  wink

Posted by mwilgar on January 20, 2011 at 6:32 AM (PDT)

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