A burning sensation

After a long struggle, we’ve finally managed to get cable TV news installed in the office, but now I wish we hadn’t. The present crisis is simply too depressing for words. We stand around the television, reporters and editors for once abandoning their ancient enmities. We’re all mute with shock at the terrible images on the screen. Burning. Flames. The death of a whole way of life.

“The first outbreak happened here early this morning, and the fires began almost immediately. The government says it’s under control, but at least one man here finds that hard to believe…”

The TV news man on Sky looks dazed. There’s a pall of smoke rising behind him, and he has to blink and stay focused despite the flames and the ash settling on the shoulders of his blazer in a thick black dandruff.

The image cuts to a gaunt and pale middle-aged man standing in front of a bonfire. “I’m stunned,” he tells the reporter. “You never think it will happen to you, and then when it does, it’s so fast.”

The camera cuts to flames, and we see piles of money burning like an accountant’s worst nightmare. Then the image cuts back to the company’s managing director. I’ve never heard of this particular dot-com but its tale is hauntingly familiar.

“We never saw it coming: Q4 was looking great, we were harvesting incredible amounts of money and the investors were just lining up for the slaughter. They almost seemed to want to give us the cash for free. But now – we’re burning a million and a half a month, and there’s no end in sight.”

We cut back to the reporter. “Is this the end of the Internet Economy in the U.K.? Now back to the studio, where we ask: are the British media obsessed with themselves? Stay with us for this all-day report.”

In the office, an employee picks up the TV remote and turns it off abruptly. None of us can take much more of this. One of the section editors is weeping silently. I walk back into my office and check out the news on the Web but there’s no solace there.

FT MarketWatch has a report about the epidemic spreading. First Holland, then France, and now even Germany. The stench of burning euros is rising from every continental bourse. So far, at least, the big American firms seem to be doing OK. My phone rings and I pick it up with dread. It’s Dominic, our man in Seattle. The line is bad – he’s obviously on his mobile. In the background I can hear an ominous crackling.

“Hell, Dominic, what’s that?”


“Where are you?”

“Amazon.com’s head office.”

My mobile goes. It’s another reporter, Miguel, outside Yahoo’s offices in Santa Clara.

“They’re burning bundles of green, Michael. You can see the smoke for miles. The sky’s gone dark.”

I hang up in shock and go make a cup of tea. The big windows of the office kitchen face the river, and the powder blue sky of this early spring day almost makes up for not being back in San Francisco.

As I wait for the kettle to boil I notice that the sky is no longer as blue. In fact it’s turning pink. But it’s too early for the sunset. Then it shifts to grey and swiftly turns to black. It’s a total financial eclipse.

I stick my head into the newsroom and shout to Georgia, who’s always been a dab hand with Web-based mapping services: “Give me the coordinates on a major Web venture, north-by-northeast, I’d say two clicks from here.”

I run back to fetch that complimentary pair of B8X25 Bauer Optics binoculars the good people of Easy Ask were kind enough to send me in better days. I scan the sky, finally making out a building away to the north.

What could be casting this pall over London? Georgia rushes in with a computer printout. “It’s One Poultry. The offices of FT.com. They’re burning millions.”

We gaze at the smoke-filled sky in respectful awe.

Is your London Net burning? Contact The Industry Standard Europe‘s Michael Parsons emergency services at michaelp@thestandard.com.