Apple upgrades bloggers to favoured status -- Updated

Apple upgrades bloggers to favoured status -- Updated

Summary: Apple has a track record of playing favourites with publications, so that a handful of journalists get treated like royalty while the plebs consider themselves lucky if they can extract a "no comment". Of course, these very select American publications retain their editorial independence, but there's always a hidden threat: they know that if they don't provide the right sort of coverage, they can be excommunicated.

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TOPICS: Tech Industry
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Apple has a track record of playing favourites with publications, so that a handful of journalists get treated like royalty while the plebs consider themselves lucky if they can extract a "no comment". Of course, these very select American publications retain their editorial independence, but there's always a hidden threat: they know that if they don't provide the right sort of coverage, they can be excommunicated. Last week, it was widely -- though incorrectly-- reported that that had happened to The New York Times. (See updates, below.)

Apple has just released a preview (beta) version of a minor upgrade to its Mac OS X operating system, so who got "the treatment" this time? One unexpected recipient was influential blogger John Gruber, from Daring Fireball. He has been called the Ultimate Apple Fanboy, though given the state of Apple-oriented journalism, there are many rivals for this prestigious title.

What's interesting is that Gruber actually describes the treatment he got:

"We were sitting in a comfortable hotel suite in Manhattan just over a week ago. I’d been summoned a few days earlier by Apple PR with the offer of a private "product briefing". I had no idea heading into the meeting what it was about. I had no idea how it would be conducted. This was new territory for me, and I think, for Apple." … "The meeting was structured and conducted very much like an Apple product announce- ment event. But instead of an auditorium with a stage and theater seating, it was simply with a couch, a chair, an iMac, and an Apple TV hooked up to a Sony HDTV. And instead of a room full of writers, journalists, and analysts, it was just me, Schiller, and two others from Apple — Brian Croll from product marketing and Bill Evans from PR."

Phil Schiller is Apple’s senior vice president of worldwide marketing and used to be the primary stand-in for Apple's top salesman, the late, great Steve Jobs. In that capacity, for example, Schiller unveiled the iPhone 3GS.

Someone with Apple Royalty status, such as The Wall Street Journal's Walt Mossberg, might well be blasé about this level of attention, but it's pretty unusual stuff for bloggerdom.

One of the problems with this kind of approach is that nobody is really sure who got what kind of advanced briefing, and so a story by Erik Wemple in The Washington Post -- Apple and the New York Times not meshing -- attracted a lot of attention.

Wemple had noticed that The New York Times was quoting Apple's press release and Gruber, which made him think it hadn't got the same briefing. Was this the payback for publishing articles about Apple's problems with the Chinese factory workers who actually make its products? According to Wemple's story:

Says a source at the Times: "They are playing access journalism... I've heard it from people inside Apple: They said, look, you guys are going to get less access based on the iEconomy series."

Many other sites picked up the story. MacRumors, for example, noted that favoured publications ran stories when the embargo was lifted: "But one publication with a long track record of receiving favored access from Apple was missing from that group: The New York Times. An article from the Times' David Pogue was published about five hours after Apple's announcement, and it did not appear to include any specific details suggesting that he had received advance notice of the release."

Fortune reported along similar lines in Apple gives the Gray Lady the cold shoulder.

Both stories were corrected later.

Fortune's Philip Elmer-DeWitt -- who says he has been covering Apple since 1982 -- also published Apple public relations' new media pecking order. He put The Wall Street Journal is at the top ("meetings with CEO Tim Cook and marketing chief Phil Schiller") while, after several other entries, "the rest of us -- including the Chicago Times' Andy Ihnatko -- got a press release". (Ihnatko actually got a telephone briefing.)

It's certainly true that Apple can't do one-on-ones with every newspaper and magazine in the USA, but in reality, it doesn't have to do 1,000 or 100, more like 10. It could even use some new-fangled technology such as video conferencing or webcasting or even a telephone conference call and get six journalists for the price of one.

But Apple continues to play favourites, and ultimately that just looks childish.

Steve Jobs was certainly capable of this sort childishness. For example, when he didn't like an unauthorised biography, iCon - Steve Jobs: The Greatest Second Act in the History of Business, published by Wiley, all of Wiley's books were removed from Apple's stores. This immediately made iCon much more interesting (Read the book Apple wants to ban!) but arguably it did hurt the authors of Wiley's pro-Apple technical books, and users.

You might have hoped that, under new CEO Tim Cook, Apple might act more like a grown up. It appears not.

@jackschofield

Correction: My original headline (Apple briefs bloggers, blanks New York Times) and story were based on the belief that, as reported, The New York Times had not been briefed, and this was wrong. On Twitter, Steve Ballantyne kindly provided a link to a Gruber response to US stories, Jumping to Conclusions. Gruber says that "When I left my briefing with Schiller last Wednesday in New York, waiting in the hallway for the next briefing was: David Pogue."

Topic: Tech Industry

Jack Schofield

About Jack Schofield

Jack Schofield spent the 1970s editing photography magazines before becoming editor of an early UK computer magazine, Practical Computing. In 1983, he started writing a weekly computer column for the Guardian, and joined the staff to launch the newspaper's weekly computer supplement in 1985. This section launched the Guardian’s first website and, in 2001, its first real blog. When the printed section was dropped after 25 years and a couple of reincarnations, he felt it was a time for a change....

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  • According to Gruber himself, in the second entry on Daring Fireball at the moment:

    "By sheer coincidence, I can report that this is nonsense. When I left my briefing with Schiller last Wednesday in New York, waiting in the hallway for the next briefing was: David Pogue."
    Kevin P.
  • @Kevin P.

    Many thanks for pointing that out: it's much appreciated. I was actually doing an update to add that, which I've now posted, but well done for beating me to it ;-)
    Jack Schofield
  • Umm... so doesn't the fact that Pogue was there invalidate the entirety of your article? Since in fact, the New York times was not "blanked".
    owensd2
  • Did Apple give him a free, high-spec laptop, to keep all for his very own? That's how Microsoft rewards *its* favourite bloggers.
    BrownieBoy-4ea41
  • Gee, Jack, whatever you do, don't admit error. You'll lose face.
    gibfish
  • As usual, The Wall Street Journal is at the top ("meetings with CEO Tim Cook and marketing chief Phil Schiller") while, after several other entries, "the rest of us -- including the Chicago Times' Andy Ihnatko -- got a press release".

    Andy got a 90 minute phone interview - he mentions it here: http://5by5.tv/ia/21
    anonymous
  • No they don't. Everyone (including John Gruber) who was briefed got a laptop with the Mountain Lion developer preview and signed paperwork stating that they'd take good care of it and return it to Apple
    drgreenberg
  • So it kind of works like this. Back in the day when Jack was the technical guy over at the Guardian he spent much time and had great pleasure being very anti-Apple.

    Hating them with a vengeance.

    Now something crops up on the Internet and he vents his spleen once again.

    Microsoft won the desktop wars with press coverage like this.

    Too many people have pointed out precisely what was wrong with this bitter article, Jack himself has had to "update" it with, like, facts, which he disparagingly picks off the arguments against what it wrote originally point by point.
    jgpmolloy
  • ZDNet writers looking like asses again, surprise. Apple can -- like any other individual or business in the world -- play favorites. You, yourself, play favorites and that's why this article even exists. So "grown up" of you. Getting really tired of the "picked-up-a-whiff so I'm gonna write a smear article all about it, even if I don't actually have a clue!" mentality tech bloggers are over-oozing these days. I'd blame Twitter, but linkbaiting baseless bias is probably a lot of it too.
    Gemma81
  • You said yourself that Andy Ihnatko, the Apple god with the crazy sideburns didn't this ahead of time. So, why didn't he get early access? He had early access to the iPad when launched, for example; he's a highly respected journo. He hasn't done any articles about China and the undesirable working conditions.

    Jack, with all due respect, perhaps you are jumping to conclusions?

    Also, about Mountain Lion, I can't imagine it being very interesting to many people, other than developers. Gruber didn't just do his blog post, he did a 1-2 hour podcast, with Dan Benjamin and Merlin Mann. (It's in the 5x5 specials feed).

    An aside:
    Watch the Mac Bagel Tech podcast (video or audio) to see Inhatko, Tom Merrit and some randoms discuss Mountain Lion, if you're really into that sort of thing.
    anonymous
  • ...and when I was a kid growing up in the UK, I used to wonder how come Thatcher was always on the Jimmy Young Show on Radio 2. (My mother was a fan!)

    This stuff is as old as time. Companies, politicians, celebs will all favour those journos that they think are on their side. Really, it's a complete non-story.
    BrownieBoy-4ea41
  • @jackschofield

    You thanked Kevin P. for beating you to post the note about Gruber. Considering that Gruber reported the Pogue news TWO DAYS before your article, it wasn't hard. BTW, did you make any attempt whatsoever at fact checking? Did you send emails to Pogue or the NYTimes before you wrote your story? If you did, then I can understand your error. (But if you didn't, shame on you!)
    stevenjklein
  • Funnily enough, dear old Jack's snark on Apple got me interested in Macs. I have to say, he's either mellowing or completely run out of puffed-up indignation. In another age, he would always fire right back with some irrelevancy rather than admit being wrong. I remember his pieces for the Groniad when they had a printed technology(sadly missed) and the Ask Jack column, where even if someone wrote in with a specific Mac question, he would manage to insert at least three references to Microsoft's similar features.
    Bless.
    frogspaw
  • The article should be removed, as the premise has been shown not to exist. Yawn.
    anonymous
  • @owensd

    > Umm... so doesn't the fact that Pogue was there invalidate the entirety
    > of your article? Since in fact, the New York times was not "blanked".

    What, you mean Apple isn't playing favourites for a change? I don't think you've established that....

    @Vera Comment via Facebook

    > Andy got a 90 minute phone interview - he mentions it here: http://5by5.tv/ia/21

    Thanks for the info. I'm looking in vain for a correction in the Philip Elmer-Dewitt story from which it's quoted...

    @BrownieBoy

    > Did Apple give him a free, high-spec laptop, to keep all for his very
    > own? That's how Microsoft rewards *its* favourite bloggers.

    Possibly, but it has never given me one. I've paid for all the PCs and Microsoft software that I use. Maybe it's an American thing....
    Jack Schofield
  • "I'm looking in vain for a correction in the Philip Elmer-Dewitt story from which it's quoted..."

    Blame Canada... PED is contactable via twitter or email - both are available on the page you quoted from. You could actually do the homework here, but it is easier to sit and wait for it to come to you.

    You have been called out many times on the "facts" in this article, and you keep biting back against them.
    jgpmolloy
  • @Jack,

    >> Did Apple give him a free, high-spec laptop, to keep all for his very
    >> own? That's how Microsoft rewards *its* favourite bloggers.

    > Possibly, but it has never given me one.

    I never doubted that was the case, and certainly didn't mean to imply otherwise. I know the Guardian, for example, has very strict rules about such things.
    BrownieBoy-4ea41
  • The word fanboy is used in a derogatory manner to imply someone is hopelessly biased in favour of a particular team/company/technology/movie.

    Does anyone have a good word for the opposite extreme?
    Carniphage
  • Red carpet for Charles Arthur

    I guess the Guardian's Charles Arthur must have the red carpet rolled out for him every time he visits Cupertino.

    If it ain't got an apple logo on it he will find some silly negative metric. His favourite at the moment seems to be the ability to play Candy Crush on it or the cost of Angry Birds
    imaginarynumber