Thursday, July 19, 2007


Wondering about the Story Behind the Ipod Lightning Story

I'm sure that by now most of our readers have seen the news story about the 'dangers' of wearing your ipod during a thunderstorm. What I find most interesting about this newsreport is not the story itself but rather speculating on the story behind the story of how this newsreport happened. The report also describes Micheal Utley, a former stockbroker and lightning victim who has created a website that, among other things, tracks lightning strike injuries involving personal electronics. The complete address for his website is included prominately in the newsreport. I don't think such free advertising happens by accident very often.

When I see a newsreport such as this one, I like to speculate on the chain of events that lead to its publication. Was the report done because someone thought it was really newsworthy, or to push some journalist's pet agenda, or because of a favor owed or given to some public figure, or just because it was easier for the reporter to dress up a press release from some PR firm or marketing dept. as a story than to spend all day researching and writing something original? Paul Graham (whose essays are linked to on the sidebar) has a really good essay on the extent to which the "news" that is reported is really driven by PR and marketing efforts. I have no inside information about this particular story, but I suspect that Mr. Utley was the initial driving force behind the story as a way to publicize his website.

Perhaps the out-of-work stockbroker got the idea as a result of his own experience with lightning, which was described in the article... He made the website collecting lightning stories, then waited for the next iPod user to get hit by a lightning strike. As soon as he heard news of a suitable new lightning strike he no doubt sent out his own press release, which was picked up by the news wires and reported as an interesting news story by papers and websites and radio stations all around the country. Mr. Utley's website got a lot of free publicity as a result of the story, and I'm sure he got plenty of web traffic as a result.

While I am reasonably confident in my guess that Mr. Utley is the driving force behind the appearance of the stories on the 'dangers' of iPod lightning strikes, there are other aspects that I wonder about. Did the initial reporter who picked up Mr. Utley's press release do it as a favor or did he do it because the info just caught his fancy on a slow news day? Is Mr. Utley driving traffic to his website just to sell ads on it, or sell the domain name itself, or is he perhaps hoping that if he makes enough noise about iPods being a lightning risk he can get Apple to pay him to shut down the website? Mr. Utley's website does not appear to take advertisers or endorse products, but it does accept donations and offer lightning related consulting services. I wonder if Mr. Utley will make enough money on this endeavor to justify the effort he put into it. Or am I being too cynical, and is it possible that this is a purely philanthropic endeavor? I also wonder if Mr. Utley was sober when he came up with the idea.

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