News doesn’t really go away ever, it just gets pushed further down search results. If you had to single out one of the greatest impacts of the Internet on the traditional news media, it would likely be that now just about anyone has access to an instant archive of information from just about any time. Forget microfiche, or library archives, or any other outmoded form of archiving you may have known before … if I want to find a piece on online promotion that I published in Australia 8 years ago, I would go online and find it. Along with this instant archive, however, comes a dangerous side effect that United Airlines (and the entire news media and financial industry) learned about yesterday.
It turns out that yesterday for some unknown reason, an old story that ran in the Chicago Tribune on December 12, 2002 was picked up by the South Florida Sun-Sentinel and run on their homepage as "news." A reporter at an investor information service did a Google search, saw the story and assuming it was current, he posted it with the headline "United Airlines: Files for Ch. 11, to cut costs by 20%" and posted it to subscribers of the Income Securities Advisor, and through Bloomberg terminals. Within an hour, the story spread across the financial industry, setting off a selling frenzy of UAL stock. As Forbes Online reports, "in the span of 10 minutes, 24 million shares changed hands. The stock, trading at $12.45, crashed to $3, according to Nasdaq. So severe was the market’s response that Nasdaq halted trading from 11:06 a.m. to 12:30 p.m."
All this because a single reporter in Florida took an old story from a credible source, assumed it was recent without fact checking and posted it. Though ironic that in this case it happened to be a reporter, you could just as easily imagine this situation coming from a blogger posting an old piece of content as new. What’s the lesson in all this? Perhaps that in today’s world of instant access to news archives, it’s no longer enough to pay attention to what people are saying about your brand today … you need to also focus on what they said yesterday that might be getting recycled so you can correct it before something bad happens to your stock or your business.