Thursday, May 31, 2007

Those who do not Learn from History Pay for It

It was only half a month ago the we learned how an unfounded rumor could wreak havoc on the price of Apple stock, at least as a short-term effect. Unfortunately, it turned out that much (if not all) of the "we" was limited to readers of CNET, as if this was just another story about the eccentricities of today's technology. Well, if Reuters did not pay very much attention to the price of a share of Apple, they clearly had a different opinion when it came to the price of a barrel of oil! Here is the lead from a story they filed yesterday afternoon:

World oil prices jumped briefly on Wednesday after a television station in Tulsa, Oklahoma -- the No. 62 U.S. media market -- posted an erroneous story about a refinery fire on its Web site.

At 10:14 EDT (1414 GMT), CBS affiliate KOTV reported that a lightning strike had caused a fire at an Oklahoma refinery -- sparking a flurry of excitement among energy traders and boosting U.S. crude prices 40 cents.

The refining company announced the story was "completely wrong" and the station withdrew the story.

"All it takes is a screw-up on a Web site to move the market. It just goes to show how tense this market is," said a Houston-based oil trader.

When I ran my editorial impressions of the Apple story, I linked the post to Ellen Goodman's recent column on "The Benefits of Slow Journalism." In this story KOTV seems to have demonstrated how little regard that have for Ms. Goodman's values. The sad irony is that all of this took place in a local context. KOTV was probably in the best position to take the time to check out the story before posting it but decided, instead, to run at "Internet speed." As Vonnegut used to say, so it goes.

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