As Apple reconsiders Pulitzer winner's iPhone app, news outlets should think twice about iPad strategy

As Apple reconsiders Pulitzer winner's iPhone app, news outlets should think twice about iPad strategy

Summary: The rejection of an editorial cartoonists app is in the spotlight after the cartoonist won the Pulitzer Prize and Apple said it will reconsider the app.


The arrival of the Apple iPad and the news media's infatuation with it because of its potential as a "reader" device is taking us down a very dangerous path - and, as is the case in many of society's ironic situations, it took a news cartoonist to raise some awareness.

Mark Fiore, who won a Pulitzer Prize this week as an online-only cartoonist, had his iPhone app rejected back in December because it included cartoons that "ridiculed public figures." Umm, hello. That's what news cartoonists do. They use satirical illustrations to spark debate over current events - and that sometimes involves mocking celebrities, companies (and their products) and government officials, especially sitting presidents.

But Apple's license agreement with app developers is pretty clear. The company can reject apps that contain "objectionable" content and specifically cites obscene, pornographic or defamatory materials as examples. The definition of "objectionable," of course, is at Apple's discretion.

What happens if Apple feels that an extremist news outlet - let's use a radical political blog as an example (you fill in the blank) - pushes the boundaries of its "journalism" to a point where its content becomes "objectionable?" Should Apple reject or pull that app? It's certainly within Apple's rights, spelled out right there in the license agreement.

One might argue that Apple is violating the first amendment rights of the content creator - but that's not really what's happening here, is it? After all, that content is still available on the Internet itself so, if you really want it, you can find it somewhere else. Apple just doesn't want you reading it while you're inside its world.

You know, just like China.

It's only fair at this point to note that, earlier today, Steve Jobs himself wrote in an email that Apple made a mistake when it rejected Fiore's app, according to a New York Times report, and that the company has asked Fiore to resubmit it. Jobs' email reportedly was brief, only saying "This was a mistake that's being fixed." It doesn't appear that Jobs specified why it was a mistake. Is it because Fiore won the Pulitzer? The NYT did call Apple's reconsideration of the app a "digital-age perk of winning a Pulitzer Prize." But let's not call Apple alone to the mat on this one.

The news media as a whole - myself included - needs to take a step back and look into the mirror for a moment, as well. Dan Gillmor, a former colleague from my Mercury News days, posed some thought-provoking questions in a blog post last week, asking the New York Times specifically about the perceived conflict of interest that comes with being both a journalism outlet that's covering one of the biggest companies on the globe and also a business that is desperately seeking new models for distributing its content, notably apps for the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch.

Gillmor says that he's asked the newspaper for some clarification but has yet to receive an answer. From his post:

Does Apple, which maintains control over what iPad apps are made available, have the unilateral right to remove these journalism organizations’ news apps if the apps deliver information to audiences that Apple considers unacceptable for any reason? No one has answered the question. I take the silence on this to mean that the answer is Yes, given the evidence of earlier Apple behavior plus the publication of an iPad application-developer agreement obtained by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a document that revealed control-freakery by Apple on a stunning level. Now, the news organizations’ silence could also mean only that they’re abiding by a key element of that control: a requirement in the app-developer agreement (the one we’ve seen, anyway) to say nothing publicly about the specifics of these dealings with Apple. Perhaps — and I hope this is true — they have special dispensation from Apple to provide the journalism they deem fit for their audiences with no interference allowed. If so, they should say so.

Related: iPhone developers: What they give up to get into Apple's app store

Journalism, an industry that's already been shaken up and tossed around by the mainstream adoption of the Internet, is finding itself at another crossroads. The Columbia Journalism Review, in a blog post, has called on the news media to yank its apps in protest unless Apple "explicitly gives the press complete control over its ability to publish what it sees fit..."

I would add that a definition of "news media" be included with something like this. From the CJRs post:

Look, let’s face it. The iPad is the most exciting opportunity for the media in many years. But if the press is ceding gatekeeper status, even if it’s only nominally, over its speech, then it is making a dangerous mistake... The press has got to step back and think about the broad implications of this. It would never let the government have such power over its right to publish. It shouldn’t let any corporation have it, either.

It's important to note that, traditionally, newsroom operations have been kept at arm's length from the business and advertising sides of the news company to avoid appearances of conflicts of interest on the news pages. In some cases, the potential for conflict was obvious - and avoided at all costs. But in other instances, the fine line hasn't always been so evident.

That's where we are today, faced with one of those fine lines that cannot be ignored. Thankfully, as I see the flood of press coverage about this, I'm relieved that journalists haven't pushed away from this story just to appease the front office - or Apple.

Topics: Browser, Apple, CXO, iPad, Mobility, IT Employment

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  • Gee.. I do believe I TOLD YOU SO...!

    Back when this draconian policy was put into place I said something to the effect of "What's next?" Politics? Religion? Whatever makes Steve Jobs irritable? It's a slippery slope.

    Glad to see you're not asleep at the wheel...
    • "Asleep at the wheel"

      In fact the Author of this story is in fact "asleep at the wheel".

      An App and the news, magazine, books and music are not the same.

      News, web content, magazines, books and music have do not have the limitations that are set by developing apps.

      -- Just look at all the objectionable content in the music side of things.
      • Uh.. Try again... The issue in question has little to do with developing.

        Apple announced that ebooks and magazines that do NOT meet the sanitized standards they feel appropriate will NOT be allowed to sync for your reading pleasure onto the iPad/Pod/Phone.

        That is, you can purchase an ebook or an electronic copy of Playboy or Maxim for reading on the Kindle reader or the Zinio reader app and it will NOT be allowed onto the iPad for reading using the appropriate app.

        Therefore, while the apps put forth by Amazon and Zinio are OK to have on the iPad, the [u]content[/u] you purchased is another thing.

        Read it and weep:;col1
        • sure, ...

          that is as with any store in the real world. the analogy is the store-
          within-a-store. if the owner of the big store doesn't like what the store-
          within-a-store sells for being offensive or whatever reason they will
          politely ask to pull the merchandise from their shelves. no outrages in
          the real world about that.
          banned from zdnet again and again
          • Your analogy is faulty.

            The difference here is that Apple doesn't stop you from buying the content. It only stops you from viewing the content you already purchased. For example, you buy ePub copies of Playboy and Better Homes and Gardens. You don't buy them through iTunes but you have to use iTunes to get them on your iPad. When you try to sync them with your iPad, Better Homes and Gardens syncs but playboy doesn't because Playboy doesn't meet Apple's standards. You have already paid for both items, you only want to sync them to your iPad. Using your analogy of the store within the store. You buy a book at the inside store (seperate cash register from the main store) and as you leave the main store the manager reaches into your bag and takes the book out because he objects to it.
          • playboy

            playboy is available from the app store. jason in a former
            sensationalist fud piece was whining about penthouse being missing
            from the zinio store on the ipad. apple refused it for being
            pornographic. that was the "censorship" story back then.

            regarding your example, when you sync none drm epub content to the
            ipad (and that is the only ebook content besides apple's drm ibooks)
            the ipad will play it. apple will make sure that you can't buy
            questionable content from their store or store-aps in the first place.

            actually until now they are pretty relaxed as you can see with all the
            explicit content available in music, tv shows and movies, within the
            ibook store, too. until now it is only what apple could or would do.

            i am only questioning the reasoning behind this alarmist fud when
            you consider how much explicit content they have been selling for a
            long time.
            banned from zdnet again and again
          • It doesn't matter WHAT the content is...

            The point is - it's being censored. Blocked. Banned. Call it whatever you want.

            You bought it. You can't read it on your iPad.

            There's no need for any whacked analogies to confuse the situation. It's a pretty straight forward issue.

            The point I made originally, and the one the author of the post this thread is attached to followed up with - Based on the whims of Steve and his board of censors, ANY content can be blocked.
  • Well done!!

    [i]You know, just like China.[/i]

    And how many red blooded, Apple loving Americans think
    that China censorship is [b]EVIL[/b] but that Apple
    censorship is, and I quote, "for our own good and
    protection"? Based on ZDNet readership, the answer is:
    [b]A LOT[/b].

    Cue the double standards...
    • what censorship?

      apple doesn't want to sell some things in their store (and it decides what
      to sell as any other store in the world). if you don't find the media apps
      you want in the app store, fire up safari on your ipad and you can access
      anything you want. where is the censorship?

      are you outraged too that walmart doesn't carry pornographic or radical
      political magazines?
      banned from zdnet again and again
      • sure if buying from an apple store

        but when apple restricts what content can be consumed on the device purchased from a non apple store, e.g. a book purchase from Amazon via the Kindle App etc, that is censorship.
        • i'd say no

          the kindle app is a store within a store. as in the real world the hosting
          store makes the rules. if the store-within-a-store sells questionary
          merchandise they will politely be asked to remove it. simple. no outrage
          about that in the real world. you don't like that? don't buy an iPhone os
          product. there is plenty of competition. a myriad of other devices and
          platforms. why isn't apple allowed only to sell what they want to sell?
          banned from zdnet again and again
          • Your analogy is completely wrong.

            As someone <a href="">wrote above</a> (talkback

            "<i>(...) Using your analogy of the store within the store. You buy a book at the inside store (seperate cash register from the main store) and as you leave the main store the manager reaches into your bag and takes the book out because he objects to it."</i>
            Great Kahuna
          • hypocrisy?

            of course not. you coudn't buy the book in the first place because the
            store wouldn't be allowed to sell questionable content.

            and isn't it ironic that the very pundits here at zdnet that reserve
            themselves the right to censor comments (i am looking at you ed and
            jason) are the ones who whine the most about apple censoring.

            so zdnet has the right to refuse questionable content, but apple has not?
            banned from zdnet again and again
      • Exactly right

        [i]apple doesn't want to sell some things in
        their store (and it decides what to sell as any
        other store in the world[/i]

        And China doesn't want its citizens viewing
        certain things online. This is a [b]good[/b]
        thing because the Chinese government is
        [b]protecting[/b] its citizens from all the
        nasty pornography and dissenting political
        opinions that are out there on the
        Internet, right? Just like Apple.

        Cue the double standards...
        • strange comparison

          i don't see you demonstrating in front of best buy for not selling
          pornographic dvds or walmart for not selling t-shirts with radical
          political messages.

          i think apple blew it by not letting the app through in the first place.
          americans seem to be extremely cautious when it comes to the danger of
          offending anyone. i think that is stupid. but that is just me. and that
          doesn't change the fundamental principle that it is their store and they
          can choose to sell what they want.

          you don't like it? stop the whining and don't buy from apple, buy from
          the store around the corner.
          banned from zdnet again and again
          • You Miss the Point of this Article

            This is not about the buying of Apps, it is about the content control of what is viewed.

            I can buy the Kindle App, I can buy the CNN App. Until I really take a look, based on Apples control, I do not know if what I am viewing has been filtered - Just like China [i](Great one liner!![/i]

            On the other hand, if Apple blocks or rescinds the app, this is very apparent - as indicated in the article - and just like China.

            His point that journalism as a whole needs to take a good long hard look at this is right on cue (think back to satellite and cable way back when it started to become popular).

            Nice work!!
            This is one of the better articles I have seen lately.

          • cnn app

            apple will never be able to censor any content any news outlet wants
            to publish via their ad. how could they? it wouldn't even be technically
            feasible let alone do you really think cnn, usa today, time or the wall
            street journal would let apple censor them? doesn't happen, will never

            the other story is selling content like books, movies , songs etc. apple
            will only sell or let their stores-within-a-store apps (kindle, zinio
            etc.) sell content they see fit. as i already pointed out because it is
            their store to begin with.

            judging from the pretty loose control they have executed so far (tones
            explicit content in their music, movie, tv and book store and the
            podcast section) i would say that pretty much anything you would
            want to buy will be there (save pornography as jason was demanding
            in his former fud piece). if something is missing because apple
            refuses to sell it, fire up safari on the very same ipad and there it is.
            you may not believe it, but fierce and evil censoring apple will allow
            you to do just that.

            zdnet pundits are only playing us. they know if they utter some
            baseless anti-apple fud we will all fall over ourselves. and i have to
            admit, it works.
            banned from zdnet again and again
          • Suggest you snuggle up to a good..

            There is one piece of this you are overlooking. Content Control.

            They have it and past events have shown they are willing to use it.

            Since Apple wants content approval rights on everything, what you need or want to read might be modified to meet Apple?s content standards. This is a seriously big issue when it comes to news and other such types of commentary. Our belief is built with these industries based on trust. To allow big business the power to control (censor) the ouput, something they will not allow the goverment to do, scares the crap out of me.

            It has made myself and other ask the single question big business should never engage in: "Can I trust what I am receiving via Apple"?

            Until Apple modifies this control, I will do what consumers have always done; buy elswhere.
          • Oh really?

            [b]apple will never be able to censor any content any news outlet wants to publish via their ad. how could they? it wouldn't even be technically feasible let alone do you really think cnn, usa today, time or the wall street journal would let apple censor them? doesn't happen, will never happen. [/b]

            Gee... All it would take is a blacklist. You open up Safari on the iPhone and type in the URL and you get blocked or redirected somewhere else. The same would be true with using Opera Mini on the iPhone. Why? Because you still have to go through the PHONE. Simple enough technology to implement.

            Heck... A simple HOSTS file would do the trick. In a HOSTS file, you simply tell it that if the end user wants to go to, he's to be redirected to http:// - that's already stored on the phone.

            It's a familiar trick to those of us who have experience with certain bits of malware. Malware apps sometimes rewrite (or attempt to rewrite) the HOSTS file so you can't get to any AV sites. But with you being a Mactard, I suppose you've never experienced anything of the sort, let alone dealt with the problem.

            We're NOT talking rocket science here. This is quite simple tech that's been around for quite a long while.
  • Apple is evil, dangerous

    They must not be allowed the kind of power they are
    aiming for. Jobs wants newspapers and other content
    providers to use the iPad as their primary delivery

    He lures them with promises of profit: Unlike on the
    web where everything is free and hard to generate
    profit from, the iPad/iPhone is a parallel "network"
    where he promises they can charge for content.

    But the price is freedom, not just freedom to choose,
    but out most basic freedom. Jobs and the Apple empire
    gets to control all the content that we consume.

    This is indeed 1984.

    There is no doubt about it anymore. Apple is evil and
    dangerous. All they want is power. And what happens if
    we give them that power.

    Look no further than to Italy where the media - both
    state and private - are controlled almost exclusively
    by a single man. Where journalists gets fired for criticizing the government or prime minister.