Engadget seeks to regain trust after Apple blunder

The world’s most popular news weblog has pledged to regain readers’ trust after a reporting error wiped a claimed $4 billion off the value of Apple.

Engadget, the technology news blog in the Netscape-owned Weblogs stable and one of the most linked-to blogs, last week ran a story claiming Apple’s iPhone and OS X Leopard products would be delayed to October and January respectively.

The story, which was based on an email forwarded from a regular Engadget source inside Apple and which appeared to have been authored by a member of the company’s corporate affairs team, prompted a large sell-off of Apple stock on Wall Street, wiping billions off in just six minutes.

The claim was quickly debunked by the company. It said the email had been a hoax authored by an employee with knowledge of its corporate notification system.

Now, in an episode that has become branded “Applegate”, Engadget editor Ryan Block has written to readers to explain he will “work very hard to earn back the trust we have lost and to do our best to be what we have always strived to be: a trustworthy source.”

Apple’s stock rebounded quickly after the correction and Block said in retrospect he might have waited for an official company announcement before running the story.

“That could have been any time, though, an hour, three hours,” he said. “We were obviously sitting on a pretty major story, and we believed that would have been a disservice to our readers.

“While we did indeed do our best to get in touch [with Apple], we were unable to immediately produce a result, so I chose to run the without comment as is standard practice for a reporter working on a big, urgent story.”

However, Block stopped short of announcing fundamental changes to Engadget’s editorial processes.

Apple has sought to clamp down on blogs repeating anonymous rumours from within the company numerous times over the last few years, fearing both stock market fluctuation and giving competitors inside knowledge. Three years ago, it attempted to force three specialist online Apple reporters to disclose their source on a story about a secret product development.

The faux pas from Engadget, which was launched in March 2004 and has a string of online reporting accolades, is one of the most serious incidents and throws in to sharp relief the dangers of super-fast online news blogging.

Brian Lam of Engadget rival Gizmodo wrote: “When a newspaper screws up, where does the damage control happen? Online. Who’s here to back up the fastest news medium around?

“Readers, if you want the stuff that’s been combed over and confirmed 100 per cent, wait ’til tomorrow’s paper. Just know that you’ll be 20 hours behind the news, and you still can’t be sure that the facts are right.”