Thursday, June 12, 2008

Anatomy of an internet rumor.

Have you ever wondered what all the people who are on the internet ("teh intarwebs") are actually doing? I mean, you know that 85% of them are either watching pornography, downloading pornography or learning how to download pornography, but still, 15% of a lot is a lot. And they must be doing something.

What they are doing, in fact, is reading teh intarwebs, then posting their own version of what other people are saying. Or, cutting and pasting what other people are saying. This is not a bad thing in theory – the nature of the internet is to provide multiple routes to information, so that damage or outage doesn't affect the web itself. In practice, the habit can get a little weird. If someone's take on what they read is wrong, it's impossible to stamp out the wrongth. It will propagate for ever.

Here's an example, featuring my favorite examples, Led Zeppelin.

As you know, John Paul Jones and Jimmy Page appeared on stage with the Foo Fighters last Saturday, 7th June, at Wembley Stadium. The Daily Telegraph had a write up of that concert. They also had a reporter write up their appearance from the "Led Zeppelin reunion" angle. This second article, by Aislinn Simpson, was titled, "Led Zeppelin Guitarist joins Foo Fighters on stage at Wembley". You can read it in full at the Telegraph website.

The first four paragraphs described the appearance of Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones on stage and said in part, "Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page joined Foo Fighters onstage at Wembley Stadium this weekend - adding fuel to rumours that the veteran rockers may launch a world tour."

Below the fold, or the e-fold, whatever you call the bit below the ad on a website, three more paragraphs appeared.

It was the first time Led Zeppelin had appeared onstage since their hugely successful reunion concert in front of 22,000 fans at London's O2 centre in December.
In an interview after that concert, Page said the band were ready to reunite and perform more live events.
But he said that fans could have to wait until Autumn 2009 as band members had to tie up individual projects first.

The reporter is saying that Page was interviewed after the December concert and said the band were ready to perform more events. However, that's not what the blogosphere thought she said.

Undercover said, Speaking to the Telegraph after the Foo Fighters Wembley gig on the weekend, Page said that the band is ready to reunite and perform more live events.

Blabbermouth said, According to Aislinn Simpson of UK's Telegraph, guitarist Jimmy Page stated in a brand new interview over the weekend that LED ZEPPELIN is ready to reunite and perform more live events. But he said that fans could have to wait until autumn 2009 as band members had to tie up individual projects first.

Rolling Stone said, The Foo concert also provided Page a venue to field more questions about whether or not Zeppelin will reunite again for a full tour. Page, who has been in favor of a reunion tour since the onset, said the band is ready to play more shows. Unfortunately, the members of the band all have individual projects to tie up, Page added, so fans might have to wait until autumn 2009 before Zeppelin re-launches.

The NME said, …nothing of the sort (See, their headline says it *was* a reunion, so I suppose they didn't need to look forward to one.)

Steve Sauer, a respected and reasonable Zeppelin historian, said, "Another recent development … is a statement attributed to Page in an interview conducted just after the Wembley Stadium encore. He is reported to have told Telegraph reporter Aislinn Simpson that the group is ready to play shows again and to look for a tour in the second half of next year."


Undercover's only source is The Telegraph, exact wording above. Blabbermouth's only source is the Telegraph, and they link to the exact wording. Rolling Stone link to Blabbermouth's article quoted above, which links to the Telegraph article. The NME got away without rumor for once, even if they did get a bit excited. And Steve Sauer, an internet reporter, is the only one out of all of these to label his sources properly. His "a statement attributed to Page…he is reported to have told Telegraph that…" is absolutely true.

Think about it. If you'd just conducted an exclusive interview with Jimmy Page on the reunion of Led Zeppelin (last seen in December on top of a pile of (reportedly) twenty million applications for 135 pound tickets), would you call the article "X joins Y on stage", with the body text "X joins Y on stage, adding fuel to rumours"? Wouldn't you call it "Exclusive: Jimmy Page reveals world tour plans"? Would you place the exclusive as the next-to-last paragraph of a blurb about the Foo Fighters?

Why, it sounds like a bad fanfic.

Note: I did write to the Daily Telegraph, following the guidelines on the website, asking for clarification. The email generated an auto-response that told me to snail-mail the question instead. I'm in the US and I can't wait for 14 to 20 days to hear what Ms. Simpson had to say for herself, so I have run with this without her input.

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Update: June 18th. In an interview with BBC Radio 6 music, John Paul Jones said, "Nobody spoke to the Daily Telegraph after the Foo Fighters’ show, sorry Daily Telegraph."

Update post in full here.

5 comments:

Steve Sauer said...

Heh heh. Glad you approve of my reporting! There were about 1,200 words in that piece I distributed Tuesday morning, and a lot of thought was behind the placement of each one. Same with the more than 4,200 words I wrote over the weekend at www.LedZeppelinNews.com, including my own version on Saturday morning about how the reunion might play out (including why I thought it would).

Stay tuned to www.OnThisDayInLedZeppelinHistory.com because I'll have another post on it tomorrow about something fun from 15 years ago. Hopefully, I won't be neglecting that site as much as I once did.

Peromyscus said...

Nice to hear from you, Steve. Since I was rather focused on one thing in that post, I may accidentally given the impression the post of yours I referred to was similarly narrowly focused.

You're right; The other 4,180 words comprised an excellent, fully researched article about Jason Bonham's life and career and his work with Led Zeppelin.

If anyone is reading this far, let me give Steve's article a plug!

The fact's ma"am said...

You still have not proved your point besides your own personal interpretation and Jimmy Page has yet to have the statement clarified or retracted so your point is?

Malia said...

I've been getting tons of google alerts about this too, all using the same Aisleen Simpson article as a source. I read the Daily Telegraph article (gotta love google alerts) before all the other sources started using it as a basis for the rumours. When I read it, my heart jumped, then when I reread it I realized "that concert" meant O2, I didn't give it another thought. I tend to not believe this kind of stuff any way till confirmed by those involved and by that I mean Led Zeppelin. Still haven't seen this on any legitmate (I use that term loosely) news source, or am I missing something?

Peromyscus said...

When the alert came through for the Telegraph article I skim-read it and had literally copied and was in the process of pasting the paragraph to a Zeppelin site when I realised what it actually said.

Imagine my disappointment, etc.

Given Page's usual recent news cycle times, it's about time for him to get an interview out there, so we'll see what he has to say then. Maybe his kite-flying worked.

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