Los Angeles Times media columnist James Rainey penned an excellent column on the late Steve Jobs and his relationship with the media.
As Rainey points out, the former Apple co-founder and CEO had a rocky relationship to say the very least with the media:
Conventional wisdom will vindicate Jobs’ media strategy. His products sold. His company grew to one of the biggest in the world. And reporters waited desperately for morsels about the slightest reconfiguration of the iPhone, iPod or MacBook. But because Jobs’ command and control paradigm worked at Apple doesn’t mean he was always right, or that his methods could be duplicated by lesser figures.
The tactics also created a perverse climate of breathless, under-informed speculation every time an Apple pod, pad or book was due for a launch or modification — which was essentially all the time. Addition of a data port on one device could draw oohs and ahhs in multiple stories..
“Not only did [Apple] introduce actually innovative products,” Dan Gillmor, a longtime Silicon Valley reporter, said via email, “but it had the uncanny ability to get normally skeptical journalists to sit up and beg like a bunch of pet beagles.”
One of the ironies of the digital communications age is that some of the greatest revolutionaries for transparency and human connectedness prefer to apply those principles to everyone else. (Google and Facebook are among the other tech giants that have made the Pentagon look pliant in comparison.) Apple “has taken stances that, in my opinion, are outright hostile to the practice of journalism,” said Gillmor, a former San Jose Mercury News journalist and founding director of the Knight Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship.
Reporters who covered Apple tell tales of being poked or prodded for straying out of line. One writer told me of being on a conference call in which analysts discussed earnings for Pixar, the animation studio he helped create. Jobs began to trash the reporter’s coverage, which turned out to be entirely accurate. She could only stew on the other end of the phone line because the call was arranged so the media could listen in but not ask questions.
Another reporter described trying, with futility, to get Jobs and Apple to comment for a story that described the origins of the iPod. After making sure there was no communication, Jobs sent a scathing email about the “many inaccuracies” in the piece. He proceeded to complain only about the degree of credit that should be given to one iPod designer.
Apple’s tactics are nothing new for technology reporters. National geek Leo Laporte (caught streaming an Apple press conference) and Gizmodo (bought a prototype iPhone for $5,000) were both banned last year from Apple events following a pair of separate incidents.
Here’s to Apple and new CEO Tim Cook rebuilding their relationship with the media. You’re going to need us one of these days.