Not news: Apple dominates mainstream tech news

Something that everybody in the technology industry has known for years has now been confirmed by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism: Apple dominates the technology news scene.Technology news isn’t very important, with “less than 1.
Written by Jack Schofield, Contributor

Something that everybody in the technology industry has known for years has now been confirmed by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism: Apple dominates the technology news scene.

Technology news isn’t very important, with “less than 1.6% of the total coverage over the course of the year, ranking it 20th out of the 26 identified topics”, says Pew. However, as The New York Times noted, the study “found that 15.1% of tech articles were primarily about Apple; 11.4% were about Google; and a meagre 3% were about Microsoft”. It continues:

The Pew study, to be released on Monday, assessed technology coverage by 52 newspapers, broadcast and Web sites from June 2009 through June 2010. The release of a new version of the iPhone was the No. 2 most-talked-about tech story during that time, representing 6.4% of all coverage, and the release of the iPad was No. 4, representing 4.6%. Microsoft released a new version of its Windows operating system during that time, too, but it garnered one half of 1% of all coverage.”

Not all the Apple coverage has been good, of course: the string of suicides at Foxconn factories in China, the source of most of Apple’s hardware, hardly cast the company in a favourable light. Still, Apple’s product secrecy and event-based marketing launches play to the press, even though it means products may be inadequately tested before they are shipped. Steve Jobs, a one-trick pony in marketing terms, has been perfecting his approach since the original Macintosh was launched in 1984 with a single Super Bowl showing of its prescient 1984 advertisement.

It works because journalism is a fashion industry, with everyone following everybody else. In Apple’s case, there are two aspects to this. First, there’s the Apple brand, supported by massive amounts of TV advertising, which attracts coverage like similar big brands: Nike, Coca Cola, and so on. Among tech companies, only Sony is in the same class, and Sony’s brand isn’t what it was. Second, Steve Jobs is a personality who demands coverage the way Richard Branson demands coverage, and the way Sir Clive Sinclair used to get coverage, but doesn’t any more. Among tech company leaders, there’s no one else in Jobs’s class, especially since Bill Gates decided to spend his time and money on the far less newsworthy task of saving millions of children’s lives. Either way, mainstream media can’t help but cover a combination of Apple, Jobs and a special event.

But mainly, I think, it’s because Apple products have made a real impact on consumers over the past decade, and readers are consumers. The iPod, iTunes store, iPhone and iPad have had a hugely disproportionate effect, even though none of them is actually that much different from products that were available before. And “news” more or less equates to novelty or change. A thousand flights landing safely at Heathrow is not news; one plane not landing safely is news.

As a result, nobody really cares that IBM equipment still runs the developed world, and that most banks, airlines, supermarket supply chains and other essential infrastructures would cease to function if everything IBM suddenly disappeared. The “back end” to western civilisation is mostly invisible, unless it breaks down for some reason. However, having one Chinese-made gizmo rather than another slightly different Chinese-made gizmo in your pocket represents some sort of change, and it’s something consumers relate to.

The comments to some newspaper articles show that many readers – perhaps even a majority of readers – have started to find the overcoverage of Apple annoying, and especially the generally uncritical nature of that coverage. Whether that will change remains to be seen. However, most press coverage over the past two decades has been based on the idea that Apple was some sort of plucky underdog, albeit one that restricted supply and charged premium prices. Now it’s one of the world’s richest companies, as measured by both market cap and by the cash it has in the band, it’s clearly not an underdog any more.

And even the most deluded Apple fans have surely come to recognise that, rather than representing freedom from the Orwellian world of IBM rule – as it claimed in its 1984 advert – Apple represents more of an overcontrolling Big Brother than anybody else in tech. In Apple’s World, you’re only free to have whatever Steve Jobs wants, and like it. (Slavery is the new freedom: Apple knows best.)

It’s also hard to imagine that with fashions trending towards support for open source development, open data, the wisdom of crowds and so on, there won’t eventually be a significant shift in the media’s generally unthinking cheer-leading for Apple’s closed, proprietary, controlling approach. Is the Reality Distortion Field bubble about to burst? Some people think so. But I’d give it another 5-10 years yet.

This story was originally posted on Monday, Septermber 27.

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