Hot Microsoft CEO rumor makes the rounds: You call this journalism?

Today's hottest rumor is that Microsoft will name its Chief Operating Officer Kevin Turner as CEO, who will then turn over the job to Stephen Elop in two or three years. But the rumor, cited by some of the top news sites on the Internet, is based on a report by a little-known Chinese blog that cites absolutely no evidence. Is this what tech journalism has come to?

The site, WPDang.com, makes the claim, citing unnamed sources, and not saying what their relationship is to Microsoft or the CEO search. Once upon a time, a site or publication that few people have heard of citing unnamed sources for a bombshell piece of news would have been ignored, or journalists would have at least done some original reporting to try and track down the truth of things.

But, oh, how times have changed. The rumor has now been repeated many times by many tech and news sites, including some influential ones, such as CNET, StreetInsider.com and others.

I've read the reports. None include any original reporting or even rudimentary analysis of whether the rumor makes sense. It's a cheap way for sites to get traffic: Spend a few minutes reporting a rumor, slap on a bombshell of a headline, and voila, instant traffic. In terms of traffic generated to effort expended, it's a big win.

Of course, in terms of journalism, it's a big loss. And unfortunately, it's sometimes par for the course. The name of the game in online news and blogging is traffic. And not uncommonly, bloggers are paid for the traffic they bring to a site, which makes this kind of thing all the more likely to happen again and again.

Is the rumor true? Who knows. It's possible, although not particularly likely.

Would Microsoft really want to hire a short-term, temporary CEO who the entire world, including Microsoft employees, knows is a lame duck? What kind of leverage would he have to get anything done?

Would Microsoft really want to keep potential CEO Elop waiting two or three years so that Turner could ... could ... well, the rumor doesn't say what Turner would do in the meantime, or why Microsoft would take such a bizarre approach to its CEO succession.

In short, even though the rumor might be true, it doesn't pass the smell test.

But none of the sites subjected the rumor even to the smell test. And whether or not the rumor proves to be true isn't the point. The point is how easy it is for any site to get gobs of traffic by making up a rumor, and then having the rest of the world repeat it -- and for those repeating the rumor to cash in as well.

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