Saturday, August 30, 2008

You ain't dead till I say you are


I'd be pissed as hell if I woke up to a nice new day and read my obituary on the New York Times front page. See, I have this sick desire to come back the day after I'm dead and hang around the office canteen to pick up on what people are saying about me. I try to do it even while I'm alive, but its slightly awkward to hide behind the counter without an excuse.

But right now I bet Apple CEO Steve Jobs is hunched over his list of 'People To Haunt After I'm Dead' and ticking off Bloomberg. Tonight I would not want to be the miserable bloke who had hit the 'transmit' button on his/her desktop and sent the obit of Jobs to thousands of Bloomberg subscribers. You mess with technology, and technology messes with you. (Which is why I just know how to switch on my terminal, what are the tech guys there for?)
In my mind's eye I can visualise his facial expression in those first few seconds as he sat frozen in abject terror.

Working in a news organisation, I can mentally re-construct the scene of crime.

"Er, boss, got a minute? Its kinda urgent," the desker (lets call him Fred) must have gone to his superior. Most likely a rotund, grizzly bear of a man who has done time in the media for 20 years at least.

The superior, lets call him Mike, is making the lead/update of the Georgia-Russia conflict and he has no time for social networking at the moment. "Whassamatter," Mike growls without looking up, takes a swig of coffee gone cold, ignores pings on the internal chat messenger, has the land line phone cradled on his shoulder and barks at the stringer in Tbilisi for more inputs.

Fred mumbles the gist of the goof-up into Mike's ear. "YOU HAVE DONE WHAT!!!???" He finally has the full and undivided attention of Mike.

20 seconds have lapsed since Jobs' obit hit the wires. The problem here is, Jobs is slightly not dead. I do not want to go into newsroom gore for the sake of my sensitive audience, but I assure you Fred will not top this year's happiness index poll.

For one, he has created the ultimate "Dear John, you will not believe what happened at the work place today" letter among fellow journalists.

It is customary in a news organisation to keep obits of famous personalities ready for release, especially if the man/woman in question is old and has a history of illness. But I still find the whole process darkly amusing. In an Indian news agency I had worked with earlier, the instances of prematurely releasing obits before a person's death were not many. But they have happened. Some had to be retracted, while in some cases the man proved to be decent and obliged us by dying.

Shehnai maestro Ustad Bismillah Khan was in and out of hospitals so often that the associate editor had his obit edited, spell-checked and saved as a folder on his desktop.

It must have been an eerie experience for Jobs to see the story on Gawker.com which devilishly published the entire folder saved by Bloomberg including a whole list of people to call for comments and their phone numbers. Which includes Jobs' ex-girlfriend. Fred must be in living hell right now, but has no good come of the process?

I have tried to list some.
1. Jobs now knows people care enough whether he is dead or alive to update his obit so regularly. Which is something I cannot say about Fred right now.
2. Jobs can now call on all the people who have been listed for comments and gift them iPhones so they speak favorably when he actually snuffs it.

3. Bloomberg is now sufficiently ashamed to try and stay in Apple's good books for a long time.

4. After that nasty scare, Jobs' is getting some from his wife/current girlfriend tonight. Yeah, ladies just fall all over themselves over sappy stuff like this. ("awwww you poor baby, tell mommy where it hurts...")

4. His name will go down in history as the 'person who came back from the dead.' Or some such soppy headline that I found linked to this news online on several sites.

5. India TV will dedicate prime time to a special feature on the obit goof-up. "Murda insaan jaag utha, Woh kaun tha joh Apple ke founder Jobs ko maar dala? aiye use benaqab karein hamare channel pe".
All in all, a day to remember in mainstream media.
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