1. Freaky Friday at Forbes.com
In the world of financial journalism, you want to report the news before everyone else. But sometimes, industrious reporters find themselves a wee bit too far ahead of the pack.
That happened last Friday, when
reported before the rest of the world that troubled telco
had filed for bankruptcy.
Boy, were they in front of everybody on that news. Absolutely no one else had that story Friday.
Maybe because WorldCom filed for bankruptcy two days later.
Yes, here's a poorly kept secret for you: A lot of times journalists write stories about news they guess will happen so they can publish quickly once the expected events come to pass.
The advantage is that if, say, WorldCom declares bankruptcy on a Sunday afternoon, you don't have to come into the office to bang out some cheap analysis of the day's events. Also, we hasten to add, advance write-ups mean readers don't have to wait as long to read your brilliant assessment of the move's impact.
The disadvantage is that someone in a newsroom might push a wrong button and end up publishing the news before the news actually happens. That's what evidently happened at
, which at 1:32 p.m. EDT last Friday published a story headlined "WorldCom Files Chapter 11," then had to issue a correction three hours later.
The editor of the
Web site, Paul Maidment, was out of the office Thursday afternoon and unable to return a call seeking comment. Friday afternoon he emailed this reply: "The intro text of a page in preparation was released early in error, which is why it was retracted immediately."
2. Then I Guess They Had to Crash, Valium Would Have Burned Up Cash
This week's do-what-I-say-not-what-I-do award must go to John Rigas, the 70-something patriarch of cable TV-system operator
. Why, only this Wednesday, Rigas was arrested on charges of securities fraud, the latest in an ugly turn of events that began in March when Adelphia blindsided investors with the news that the highly leveraged Adelphia was on the hook for $2.3 billion more than it had previously disclosed.
Where this ballooning debt came from, we have no idea. Because as we learned from reading the feds' 70-something-page complaint against Rigas and his family, John was all for reducing debt at the company. In fact, the complaint includes this comment that Rigas made to the cable trade magazine
in 1999: "We're finally getting our leverage down where it's more respectable. ... It's going to take a lot of getting used to, if we get it down, that every time people write about Adelphia, they won't use the phrase, 'highly leveraged Adelphia.' I'm going to have to take a Valium to get used to it."
Perhaps he's right on several counts. One, people aren't referring to "highly leveraged Adelphia" anymore, though not exactly for the reason he forecast. And two, even though we're not MDs at the research lab, it occurs to us that a properly prescribed Valium might indeed help Rigas get used to what he has to get used to these days.
3. Let's Spend My 401(k) Together
Speaking of little yellow pills, some frightening news about the forthcoming Rolling Stones concert tour just smacked us in the face this week.
Though the information has been kicking around for nearly two months, we clueless types at the Five Dumbest Things Research Lab just noticed who was sponsoring the 60-something rockers' tour this year:
We guess this make sense. E*Trade is going after the Stones' "mature fan base" to target potential customers with $100,000 or more to invest, an executive told
Fund Marketing Alert.
Since the fans of the aging rockers are pretty long in the tooth themselves, and since some concertgoers will be paying $300 for their tickets, E*Trade has a promising collection of prospective investors.
And, in contrast to the shock we'd feel if, say,
sponsored an evening with Joan Baez, we don't think any Stones fans feel betrayed by the group's tacit endorsement of a hotbed of capitalist self-interest. Over the years, the Stones have made it abundantly clear that they don't believe making money and making music are mutually exclusive.
But it still doesn't mix, we think. When we at the lab go to a rock concert, we don't want to be reminded of how we should plan for our retirement; we're there to recapture our lost youth. If we make it to the Sept. 5 debut at CMGI Field, we'll be sitting in the $50 upper deck seats -- not because we're cheap, which we are, but because we don't want to see the wrinkles lining Mick Jagger's face.
Getting a good look at the Stones would only remind us how close the band is to retirement age, and how much more money they'll have than we will. Given how much investors have lost in their retirement accounts this summer, thinking about the stock market at a Stones concert no doubt will cause our 20th nervous breakdown this year.
4. What in the WorldCom?
Yes, we're back to talking about WorldCom again. But since WorldCom's Chapter 11 filing was the largest in corporate history -- as we learned from
psychic bankruptcy coverage last Friday -- we figure we can't write enough about the financial disaster's consequences, no matter how obscure they might seem.
Well, maybe you should be the judge of that.
Anyway, we couldn't help noticing a recent press release from a WorldCom you may not have heard of -- the WorldCom Public Relations Group. The network of independently owned public relations firms saw fit to tell the world "it has no connection to the troubled telecommunications firm making negative headlines for its accounting practices."
Cathy Dunkin, WorldCom's Americas regional chair and managing principal of The Standing Partnership in St. Louis, suggests that the impact hasn't been that grave for the PR network's members. Confused prospective clients have expressed concern, and the neighbor of a colleague sympathetically asked her about working conditions. And the group does get occasional calls from people asking about their phone bills.
But hey, if you're in the business of glossing public images, every scuff on your own is painful to behold. "It is an inconvenience," says Dunkin, "and it's discouraging to have the confusion when we've built a good strong brand in our particular area of business."
5. AMC's Horror Show
is in the business of operating movie theaters, the company seems to be weirdly out of touch with popular culture these days.
That's what we conclude from AMC's disclosure Monday that it was spending nearly $20 million to forgive loans it had made to its executive officers.
Unsurprisingly, shareholders didn't rally around the company in support of the nurturing environment it has created for top executives. No, instead they were quickly reminded of WorldCom's generosity toward former CEO Bernie Ebbers and John Rigas' habit of borrowing money from Adelphia. AMC's stock, which closed at $11.15 before the disclosure Monday, quickly took a dive and didn't recover. Shares closed at $8.35 Thursday.
A company spokesman told
The Wall Street Journal
that AMC's board forgave loans to its CEO and chief operating officer in recognition of their "extraordinary performance" during what, for the movie theater business, has been a difficult time, putting it mildly.