Steve Jobs fake 'relax' iPhone 4 email serves a lesson about online journalism

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Apple PR have dismissed reports of a recent email exchange between Apple chief Steve Jobs and a concerned iPhone 4 customer as fake.

The exchange was first published on The Boy Genius Report (BGR) and then quickly published around the world by dozens of tech websites, including on our US sister title PCWorld.

The purported email exchange started after a person BGR called "Tom" uploaded one of the many YouTube videos showing how the iPhone 4's cellular signal degrades when held a certain way.

"Tom" has since been revealed to be Jason Burford of Burford Advertising in Richmond, Virginia. Burford says that Apple contacted him and asked him to not to post further YouTube videos showing the iPhone 4 antenna issue, according to BGR. Burford claims he emailed Apple and Jobs, resulting in the alleged exchange with Apple's chief.

Meanwhile AppleInsider reported that Burford contacted them two days before the BGR report was published, offering to sell them a similar email exchange for an unspecified amount of money.

"Two days ago, AppleInsider was contacted by Jason Burford of Burford Advertising, a small family run firm that creates video commercials for a variety of local businesses. In the email, Burford wrote 'email exchange from jobs. 'Calm down' 'rumors.' for sale. Will send headers for proof.' When asked for more information about what he was presenting, Burford replied, 'I do not wish to share all of it because I kinda went off on him and it is embarrassing.'"

Now Apple has come out to emphatically deny the Apple emails. However BGR is not backing down from its position that the email exchange is '100% legitimate' and has also posted screenshots of the email exchange contained within the iPhone's Mail application.

It is not known whether BGR paid Burford to break this story, but it wouldn't be the first time a tech news site has pulled out the chequebook for a news scoop. Remember Gizmodo and the lost iPhone drama?

The fake email exchange fiasco comes in the same week that British tabloid the Daily Mail published a story that Apple was recalling the iPhone 4. The story ended up being debunked, based on a tweet sent from a parody Twitter account.

It is always Apple that seems always to be at the centre of these hoax media storms. What does this say about today’s journalistic integrity? In the growing pressure to break stories first and to get online traffic, some publishers are cutting corners - such as basic fact checking. Once the report is published, others rush to report on the report to get any spare crumbs of web traffic.

While anything about the Apple iPhone is a sure fire way to get traffic to a website, and everything that Jobs writes ends up in the public domain, these sorts of false stories and paid media deals are likely to continue. As Mashable writes: “The reports based on Steve Jobs’ e-mails likely won’t stop, as there’s reason to believe that at least some of them are authentic. It’s OK, just have in mind that the real Steve Jobs is getting harder and harder to distinguish between the idea of Steve Jobs, created by Apple fans, haters, users, and the media.”

On a lighter note, Futurama has mocked the Apple cult and Twitter phenomenon. In an upcoming episode, the main character Fry (not British comedian and Apple enthusiast Stephen Fry, but that storyline is equally believable) queues to buy an eyePhone, a device that makes people use Twitcher, which in turn is run by the villain Mom to infect everyone with the Twit Worm, turning users into zombies. Can't wait till the episode is aired in the UK!

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