Give Internet-based information this much: It's a missile capable of landing anywhere -- and everywhere -- on the globe at the speed of light, beggaring the abilities of print media in that regard. But, as a few supermarket retailers have discovered lately, such information isn't foolproof, and, once launched, it's difficult to retrieve.
Information published in any medium is prone to error, just as error can creep into any human endeavor. But one particularly egregious e-error occurred last month when an industry-related Web site posted the grim news that Winn-Dixie Stores had filed for bankruptcy. Little could be further from the truth. Winn-Dixie has its problems, but a financial report published in SN last week shows Winn-Dixie to have slightly increased its top line during its second quarter, to a robust $4.28 billion.
The situation illustrates how a new and insidious dynamic can result from Web-based publishing. The Winn-Dixie report was originated by the respected Stores Magazine, a publication of the National Retail Federation, when a reporter glanced at a statement issued by Winn-Dixie concerning a reorganization -- an event that resulted in a news article on Page 1 of SN's Jan. 24 issue -- and took "reorganization" to mean "bankruptcy reorganization." The resulting erroneous news was e-mailed to KPMG, which then posted the information on its own Web site. Stores told SN it was the most serious error it had ever made. KPMG told SN it would take steps to ensure that nothing of the sort ever happens again. Winn-Dixie told SN that since the Web posting was removed quickly, it probably did little harm, especially since the report was patently absurd on its face. See Page 1.
Good enough, but the untrammeled flight of the falsehood points out a difficulty with Web-based information "aggregators," third-party collectors and posters of information from a myriad of sources. Generally, aggregators cull wire services, Web-based media and solicit e-mail feeds. Information so gleaned may be truncated, a headline added, then it's posted. In some cases the entire process is automated. The result may well be that little or no traditional editing occurs. Moreover, many originators of information may not know where all their work has gone, making full retrieval dubious, if need be. Incidentally, a host of aggregators supply information about the food trade, under the sponsorship of vendors, trade associations, trade publications, consulting groups and entrepreneurs of every stripe. SN publishes a daily news service on its Web site, SupermarketNews.com. Each news item is staff-written and edited.
As this week's Page 1 news article points out, a plethora of preposterous information about publically traded companies also fires about the globe at will because of Internet message boards. By comparison, boards make the product of aggregators seem like that of Oxford dons, since there is utterly no control over what any individual might say about anything on a board.
Final full disclosure: No one in the publishing business can afford to be too smug about error. Take a look at the correction on Page 4 concerning last week's Winn-Dixie financial I referenced above.