Technologizer

Digitimes on Digitimes: We Know What We’re Doing, and We’ll Try to Do Better

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Harry McCracken / TIME.com

Last week, I wrote about Digitimes, the Taiwanese tech site which covers the Asian gadget supply chain and is most famous for its stories about alleged upcoming Apple products.

I revisited 25 old Digitimes stories about Apple and found that while some were on the money, many more involved suppposed products — like AMD laptops and touch-screen iMacs — which never arrived. I compared the site to both the little boy who cried “wolf!” and celebrity psychic Jeane Dixon, and basically bawled out tech reporters for taking its Apple coverage even halfway seriously.

Some bloggers nodded their heads in agreement with my piece, as I expected they would. But then I found this message in my inbox:

Hi Mr. McCracken,

Thank you for writing about us.

Digitimes has indeed reported much on Apple, and many of the products that we said would be launched have never been launched, or have had their launches delayed. But that does not mean that we were crying wolf or passing along gossip. In fact, Apple have a lot of its R&D projects and ideas tried out at its supply chain partners in Asia. Many of the prototypes created by the supply chain partners will never make it to the market after Apple’s assessments. This is one of the major reasons why a lot of the information we have disclosed has been seen by others as inaccurate, but is still valuable to our reader base in the supply chain. We understand the risks behind the kind of reporting we have been doing.

In the future we will implement even stricter requirements for verification of such stories. We will also add more analyses to such stories to provide readers with more valuable information.

Joseph Chen
Deputy Managing Editor
DIGITIMES WWWatch

I’m grateful to Chen for bothering to respond: As far as I know, this is the first time that anyone at Digitimes has said anything publicly about its Apple stories and their level of accuracy, or lack thereof. If the site does vet future articles better, I’ll be impressed and pleased.

I think that it’s obvious that Chen is right about at least one thing he says: Some of the site’s sources are indeed talking about products which Apple builds only as prototypes. And, I suspect, ones which Apple scraps or revises after Digitimes publishes its story. And stuff which will eventually amount to something, but not in the form or on the timetable which Digitimes expects. There’s truth in there somewhere, at least part of the time.

That doesn’t let Digitimes off the hook, though, and Chen’s reference to “others” having “seen” its stories as inaccurate doesn’t jibe with the aggressively, fundamentally incorrect nature of many of the site’s scoops. When Digitimes’ sources say that Apple will ship an OLED iPad for around $1200-$1500 in the second half of 2010, and the technology, price and timing all turn out to be wrong, nobody benefits, including the site’s supply-chain readers.

Thinking about Digitimes’ reporting in particular and Apple rumors in general, I’m reminded of Errol Morris’s excellent documentary about former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, The Fog of War. It takes its title from a von Clausewitz quote which, in the clunky English translation at Wikipedia, reads as follows:

War is an area of uncertainty; three quarters of the things on which all action in War is based on are lying in a fog of uncertainty to a greater or lesser extent. The first thing (needed) here is a fine, piercing mind, to feel out the truth with the measure of its judgment.

The Apple rumorsphere, in which Digitimes is a primary player, is a fog of uncertainty if there ever was one. Sadly, too many news sources spend virtually no time trying to feel out the truth.

In a strange way, Digitimes also reminds me of the Dear Abby and Ann Landers of 1990s pseudonymous tech rumormongering, InfoWorld‘s Robert X. Cringely and PC Week‘s Spencer Katt. (Spencer Katt seems to have gone to the great litterbox in the sky, but yes, I know that there are still no less than two writers still plying the Cringely trade. Both of them are among the numerous Cringelys employed by InfoWorld when it was a dead-tree publication; neither of them, however, is a gossip columnist of the sort that Cringely once was.)

Back in the day, Cringely and Katt cheerfully repeated gossip they’d heard and didn’t deny that it was gossip. Here, for instance, is a Cringely — not either of the two current ones — in 1997, blithely reporting that sources at Sun say Apple will move the Mac to Intel processors. It didn’t happen — well, not for another eight years — but that was okay, since the tidbit began and ended in as a one-paragraph Cringely item. No other news source would have dreamed of putting the rumor on its front page based on Cringely’s word.

The biggest difference between Digitimes and Cringely/Katt is that Digitimes presents its rumors as news, not entertainment — and a whole lot of other sites that should know better treat them like news, too.

Semi-related footnote: Digitimes’ site seems to use a selective paywall that lets visitors from certain sites in, but presents others with a login screen and an alert that the article is available only to paid subscribers. When I wrote my story last week, I linked to a bunch of Digitimes articles. The links worked then — I double-checked ‘em all — but clicking on them now results in the subscriber-only message.

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