SMNR Chipped Away

In the “Mixed Signals” blog on ZDNet, writer Rupert Goodwins today turns his critical eye to an IBM-issued press release heralding the latest nanotechnological development on the chip-making front.

In his post, titled “IBM’s supercomputer chip breakthrough more PR than IT,” Mr. Goodwins dissects the news with reportorial flair. His conclusion: “It ain’t so. It ain’t even close.”

Now about that news release. Other than posting the headline and lead verbatim on the ZDNet blog, which likely spread glee to IBM’s PR department (who reads beyond the first two paragraphs of a story anyway?), Mr. Goodwins observes that the release was picked up cross the Web on face value no questions asked:

But on the face of it, what we have is one extremely hyped-up press release and an entire Web of people happy to take it at its word rather than hit Google – or, heavens to Betsey – actually call a competitor to ask if this is actually true.”

A few weeks ago, I drafted a “news release” for a client without any intention of it getting “picked up” in the news media – or at least the mainstream variety in which so many clients still aspire to be featured. It was written explicitly for the search engines and online news aggregators. And sure enough, that SEO-enabled release established a respectable digital footprint that will have a long, if not indefinite shelf-life (and hopefully a prominent place in Google’s organic results rankings).

As for the IBM release, Mr. Goodwins naturally wags his finger at the PR department and absolves the researchers of any malfeasance:

“The people who’ll feel this the most keenly are the researchers, who’ll have to go to conferences of their peers and explain that no, they didn’t tell IBM’s press office to print all that guff. That they’ve done good and important work, I do not doubt. But this will have done their reputation among their fellows no good at all.”

It begs the question: does an optimized news release bypass the (valuable) journalistic scrutiny that traditional news releases historically endured? Is the “crowd” in the blogosphere up to the task of assuming journalism’s checks & balances function?

To IBM’s credit, the news release headline did equivocate a bit: “New IBM Research Technology Could Enable Today’s Massive Supercomputers to Be Tomorrow’s Tiny Computer Chips.”