I think it’s time for an introduction: Maui News, meet the Internet.
Because of the curious late afternoon deadline schedule for the island’s only daily newspaper, it’s common to read “news” stories in The Maui News that are a day or even two days old. Say something breaks in the late afternoon or early evening on a Monday, news of it actually won’t appear in the print edition until the Wednesday paper.
We’ve come to expect that from the News. What caught me unaware was that if national news breaks on a Monday morning Eastern Time (long before most people on Maui are awake), and is then discredited online by Monday afternoon, that original news story might still run in the Tuesday edition of The Maui News as though the online discrediting hadn’t occurred.
The Maui News story that surprised me appeared in this morning’s print edition (it’s not on The Maui News page, but here it is on the Washington Post‘s site). It’s an Associated Press story titled “Apple sets record for market value at $624B” and appeared on page B5 of the paper’s Money Matters section. The problem with the story appears in the first two paragraphs:
NEW YORK – Apple is Wall Street’s all-time MVP – that’s Most Valuable Property.
On Monday, Apple’s surging stock propelled the company’s value to $624 billion, the world’s highest, ever. It beat the record for market capitalization set by Microsoft Corp. in the heady days of the Internet boom.
While the $624 billion figure for Apple is true, the terms “all-time” and “highest, ever” are not. While Microsoft’s $620.6 billion high in 1999 is less than Apple’s Monday high in absolute terms, it’s actually higher–substantially higher–when you adjust for inflation.
Paradoxically, this fact appears in the AP story’s seventh paragraph:
The comparison to Microsoft does not take inflation into account. In inflation-adjusted dollars, the software giant was worth about $850 billion on Dec. 30, 1999. Microsoft is now worth $257 billion.
Huh? So Apple is the “all-time” “Most Valuable” company, except for Microsoft? This should have raised red flags to The Maui News editors who read the story before publication. What also should have clued them in was this Columbia Journalism Review blog post that went online Monday morning Hawaii time that highlighted many instances of papers and news sources making the “all-time” error:
Apple is not the biggest or most valuable company in history—not by a longshot. That’s because the press is overlooking reality for the apparently irresistible pull of a headline that includes “Apple” and “record”—pageview gold.
And if that still didn’t clue them in, there was this warning further down the CJR post:
Sorry, but you have to adjust any number like this that’s that old for inflation—it’s comparing apples to oranges not to do so.
For a mainstream paper like The Maui News, CJR is not some unknown resource: it’s one of the most trusted names in journalism about newspapers and media affairs, and something any newspaper editor anywhere in the country should check multiple times a day.
Photo: Elwood J Blues/Wikimedia Commons