Over 20 years ago, the phrase “24-hour news cycle” was a sign of the times - a testament to the demand for round-the-clock news updates facilitated by always-on news services such as CNN and MSNBC. When the Internet became a widely used public service in the mid-1990s, the pressure mounted due to the plethora of Internet news services that came online. Pointcast was a prime example of a pushed-update news service. It was a live news feed application for your PC that acted like a ticker of news headlines from various news outlets that you chose from. It was a forerunner of RSS, a reflection of the craving for the absolute latest stories, long before they would appear in print or even on the evening news. Various factors led to the demise of that once popular application, but the demand for instant updates remained.
Advances in Technology and the Present-Day News Cycle
As technology has advanced more rapidly with each passing year, the demand for instant updates has increased. Media outlets are feeling the pressure like never before to be the first one to break a news story. Instead of “stopping the presses,” so a newspaper could push out a late-breaking headline the day before everyone else, it’s now a race to the keyboard to break a story online the hour before everyone else. Picture a frantic Wall Street-style trading pit, but instead of the stock exchange, this type of chaos reigns in newsrooms around the world.
Android is a prime example of rapidly advancing technology, advancing more rapidly, in fact, than any other platform in the world. Just three years ago, Android was a fringe market, until the original Droid took Android into the mainstream in late 2009. Just months later, the Nexus One, the Droid Incredible, and the Samsung Galaxy S line introduced 1 Ghz processor in early 2010 (by contrast, for most of 2010, Apple’s flagship phone was the iPhone 3GS, with a 833 Mhz processor underclocked to 600 Mhz). In 2011, we were introduced to dual-core 1-1.5 Ghz processors, and this year we are seeing quad-core processors make their debut.
New Android phones are released each year that effectively double the power of the previous year’s flagship models. Because of this rapid advancement, the demand for leaks on the latest upcoming flagship phone has exploded. Why shouldn’t we be drooling about the possibilites, since the next phone is likely going to be a quantum leap over the phones that dominate the spec list now?
Unrelenting Pressure Leads to Unreliable Tips
Media outlets, under intense pressure to leak the latest stories hours or even minutes before everyone else, have begun to publish stories based on unconfirmed reports from unreliable sources. Their eagerness to be the first to break a new story has even caused some of the more established news services to frequently publish “leaks” that later turn out to be false. Leaks in general are usually unreliable, and some are outright fantasies, and it is certainly unrealistic to expect any news service to be accurate all of the time. Lately, however, the frequency of erroneous tips has skyrocketed.
Opportunistic “industry insiders” and “leading experts in the field” are clamoring for their few minutes of fame, and “anonymous sources” and “undisclosed company officials” are clamoring for a feeling of self-importance when their leaks are publicized practically verbatim. As if these weren’t enough to contaminate the news pool, companies themselves are using deliberate leaks to manipulate public opinion in hopes of maximizing their “wow factor” and, consequently, their profits. Desperation can put even some of the leading news services at the mercy of these manipulators.
Take the Galaxy S III, For Example...
Samsung has made unprecedented efforts to shroud this year’s line of Galaxy S phones in secrecy. Samsung has tightened security around its product line this year just as well, if not better, than Apple does every year with its iPhone releases. With the lack of official leaks, desperate media outlets have had to turn to “unofficial” sources this year to find out anything they can about the successor to the Galaxy S II.
For example, a usually credible news service quoted a Samsung VP as saying the Galaxy Note is the “spiritual” successor to the S II (as if a handheld device can have spiritual significance). The veracity of this story is not in question at all. What IS questionable is how this VP’s opinion came to be construed as an indication that there would be no true Galaxy S III this year.
Closely related to this example is an anonymous “source in the UK telecoms industry” claiming that “The Next Galaxy” to be unveiled in May might not even be called a Galaxy S (and might be just an incremental update, “like the iPhone 4S was to the 4”). Again, I have no doubt that the story itself is accurate (as I said, the news service in question has a normally sterling reputation for being credible). What I do doubt is the reliability of this anonymous source - his statements also seem to be more opinion than fact.
Taken together, these two “leaks” effectively create an atmosphere of disappointment among the rabid masses who keenly anticipate the official unveiling on May 3rd. Having their expectations lowered, Samsung’s consumer base would be shocked to see an unveiling of a phone with twice the processing power of the vaunted Galaxy S II, a vastly improved display, a huge camera upgrade, a major update to the OS, and a new innovative design. It would easily be one of the most momentous unveilings of the year, possibly even eclipsing the hotly anticipated iPhone 5 announcement. With its customers jolted into an excited frenzy, Samsung would undoubtedly shatter last year’s Galaxy S II sales records, and might even close the sales gap with the rival iPhone. Meanwhile, the credibility of the news service which broke the above stories would take a major hit.
The New Reality in Technology News
Last year provided a lesson that the media as a whole has largely ignored. A story was published just weeks before the launch of the eagerly anticipated Galaxy Nexus, claiming that Google’s 2011 flagship phone would have the same display resolution as 2010’s Galaxy S line (only stretched across a larger screen). This was based on a “User Agent Profile” leaked on Samsung’s official website. The media outlets that downplayed this “tip” proved to be prophetic, in a manner of speaking, when the Galaxy Nexus was released with a higher display resolution than any phone had ever had before.
I still have the greatest respect for the news service that published the disappointing leaks concerning Samsung’s upcoming Galaxy line, and any inaccuracies that will be exposed on May 3rd will be entirely the fault of the news sources, not of the writers or of the news service. Still, more confirmation should have been sought prior to publishing these stories. The writers themselves duly noted that readers shouldn’t take these “leaks” as gospel, but they still placed themselves at the mercy of a single source for each story, and gave too much weight to the speculation-filled opinions of sources that may have had less-than-honorable motives for tipping off the media.
This is a symptom of the “perfect storm” that confronts all news services:
- Unprecedented, unrelenting demand from the readers for the latest leaks as soon as they come out,
- Unprecedented, unrelenting pressure to be the first to break an “exclusive” report, and
- Unprecedented willingness of “anonymous sources” and overly opinionated company officials to manipulate news services (and thereby their customers) for their own selfish ends.