February 28, 2007 4:07 PM
Yesterday the Dow Jones suffered its worst single day decline in over five years. Today, according to KSTP Eyewitness News in Minnesota, "Computer glitch triggered Dow Jones plunge"
Which is an extremely misleading headline. I question the integrity of its author.
If you read the entire article (which is from the AP) you learn that the "glitch" in question was the computer system catching up on a backlog of activity, and to observers the Dow appeared to plunge very quickly in the afternoon when the decline had actually occurred throughout the day. KSTP's headline makes it sound like it was the computer's fault that the plunge happened at all.
No computer triggered any plunge. The computer simply did the math on the trades that had occurred and reported the resultant numbers. The computer was backed-up due to high volumes, so when it caught up quickly and reported the updates, it appeared as if the Dow dropped 200 points instantaneously.
To report the story with the implication that it was a computer's fault is akin to blaming a radio announcer for a horse's loss in a race.
For example: Say Horse #5 is winning a race, but right at the end horse #3 passes him for the win. On the radio the announcer says, "And #5 is in the lead as they head down the stretch! Looks like #5 has it all sewn up! And they cross they finish line ... #3 is the winner!"
Next day, the headline would be "Radio announcer triggers #5 horse to lose". The announcer's mistake was that he failed to mention the point when #3 passed #5, and by the time he caught up with the race, #3 had won. The announcer did not trigger #5 to lose the race, he had nothing to do with it.
I know I'm a wet blanket for arguing the point. But it's indicative of the way technology related stories are reported by those who do not understand technology. Whoever wrote that headline simply paraphrased the first sentence of the article without understanding the full story.
It wouldn't have been very hard to choose a better headline, such as ComputerWorld's more accurate, "Computer glitch made market drop seem worse." Or the L.A. Times's less misleading, "A computer glitch distorts Dow's drop, then exacerbates it."