Bloomberg overstretch watch, Zipcar edition

By Felix Salmon
June 11, 2009

Dealscape joins in the Bloomberg-bashing:

Bloomberg’s attempt to wring a bit of news out of an apparently boring interview with Zipcar CEO Scott Griffith makes it clear the traditional news outlets are often just as guilty of churning out nonsense as the user-generated content, blogs and tweets they fear.

Yet again, Bloomberg has overstretched when newsifying a boring Bloomberg interview. In this case, the headline (“Zipcar Seeks IPO”) is based entirely on speculative quotes from analysts following the company — including one who says outright that Zipcar hasn’t even started talking to bankers — and has no basis in anything from inside the company whatsoever. I have no idea why Bloomberg felt the need to sex up a non-story in this manner, but I’m beginning to see a pattern here.

Update: Bloomberg issued an interesting statement to Clusterstock:

“We have the Zipcar CEO ON TAPE saying that IPO is absolutely ‘the right outcome for us.’ When asked when, he said ’2010,’” a Bloomberg spokesperson tells us.

This is fascinating, because none of that information — neither the “right outcome” quote nor the specifics of the 2010 date — made it in to the original article. It’s not like there was a lack of space: he’s quoted as saying banal things like “we’re growing in a year where flat is the new up”.

Which raises an interesting possibility: that the CEO went off the record for the IPO material, and that the journalist, Julie Ziegler, took the hint and ran with it, quoting other people about the IPO but not quoting the CEO himself. But when Zipcar objected to Bloomberg’s article, Ziegler decided that the off-the-record comments weren’t so off-the-record after all, any more.

This is pure speculation: I know nothing of the interview. But there is a big difficulty in writing a story based on information you got on an off-the-record basis. Normally you’d just cite “sources close to the company” or something, but that looks really weird when the only quoted source in the article is the CEO. If I’m right, though, I do wonder how high up the Bloomberg hierarchy the decision was taken to go public with comments which were meant to be off the record.

Update 2: The NY Post talked to the CEO, too, and also came out thinking IPO.

Update 3: Zipcar filed to go public in June 2010.

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