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There has been a lot of chatter this week about the health of Steve Jobs. On one level, it's a perfectly understandable discussion. Jobs is a public figure and as such what happens to him--good or bad--interests us.

But a friend of mine suggested that any discussion of Jobs' health was crossing the line into gossip. He was not alone as comments in the many blog posts in the aftermath of this week's announcement attest. I maintain that there is room for serious and meaningful discussion about this, and that because Jobs is who he is, we should be talking about this and asking tough questions.

Public or Private

The fact is that Jobs is the very public face of a publicly traded company. His health matters more than on a People Magazine sort of level. It matters because many people believe he is the driving force behind all of Apple's greatest ideas. As such, what happens to him affects stock prices in a very real way and each bit of news whether it's a letter or a rumor can have a profound impact on investors who have put up real money.

Drawing a line

As I discussed in Steve Jobs Lives, Story at 11, which I wrote after the Macworld letter came out, there is legitimate debate regarding how much of any person's health is the business of anyone but that person, his family and his doctor, but in reality we know that certain public figures live by a different standard. We expect, for instance to see the medical records of people running for president. There is no law I'm aware of compelling candidates to share this information, but most do because the long-term health of a potential president matters to us. It's not because we want to gossip about the candidate's cholesterol level, it's because we have a legitimate concern about the candidate's health.

To some extent, the same is true for a public figure like Jobs. We don't necessarily have a right to the information, any more than we do with the presidential candidate, but because Apple is a publicly traded company, stock holders have a stake in this information, as does anyone considering buying the company stock.

I get that there is a line here and I'm hoping I haven't crossed it, but ultimately there is a difference between gossip for gossip's sake and very real discussion on the impact of Jobs health on Apple as a company. I'm not so cold as to forget that Jobs is a real man with a family and a right to his own life, but neither should he (nor anyone) forget that when Jobs coughs, the stock price fluctuates and that is open territory as far as I'm concerned. As a publicly traded company, it's important to remember, that information of this sort really is fair game so long as we remember there are some limits.

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Last Post by Techwriter10
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Very insightful, Ron - and you did NOT cross the line...these are great points. What it makes me think about is: should Apple, or any company, take steps to make sure that something as transient and unpredictable as a human life isn't seen as the power behind the company. Talk about a lot of eggs in a totally uncontrolled basket. Though, ew, that makes me sound like someone ready to get rid of people all together...and I'm not!

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Thanks for your comment and you make a perfectly valid point. Part of the problem here is that Apple has built a cult of personality around Jobs. They have made him a larger than life figure and sooner or later he is going to leave the organization. If stock holders perceive him as the only creative force in the company, it's a huge disservice to everyone else involved and the stock holders themselves.

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Trouble is Ron, you want your cake and to eat it as well.... you even managed it in the same sentance:-

"I'm not so cold as to forget that Jobs is a real man with a family and a right to his own life,"
followed by-
"but neither should he (nor anyone) forget that when Jobs coughs, the stock price fluctuates and that is open territory as far as I'm concerned."
This could be paraphrased as ' yes you are a private person but I gave you some of my money so tough luck.'
It amazes me that most bloggers spew out the same self-justification as reason enough to be unashamedly rude, cruel and impersonal in equal amounts whilst effectively dancing on someone's pre-dug grave.
In my book, it's not edifying.
It seems that capitalism is justification enough for knee jerk journalism encompassing insensitivity, invasion of privacy and not a small modicum of schadenfreude whilst conveniently forgetting the first rule of business...
Caveat emptor.
Someone being ill is NO justification for a distasteful interest in their every move.
Yes, you have crossed the line.
And yes, before you bring up the subject, I'm probably just as guilty for reading your post in the first place. I'm not proud of that and neither should you or the blogosphere at large be either.
Leave the man alone for kindness' sake and concentrate on the company instead.

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Calico:
Thanks for your comment, but your post suggests that we shouldn't have any discussion of Jobs whatsoever, and that's just not realistic, nor is it right in my opinion.

It's not as though I was lurid about it. Jobs is a public figure at a publicly traded company and as such we have to talk about this. As I said, we don't have to speculate about his condition, which I didn't. We don't have to gossip about it in a celebrity sense, which I didn't, but he is a public figure and an important part of his organization and we absolutely have a right to discuss that.

What I was attempting to do was define the parameters of reasonable discussion because there is going to be one because of his role and who he is. --Ron

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