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February 21, 2012

Snubbing the Media — Strategy or Revenge? Apple's Stiff-Arming Of the NY Times After Paper's Foxconn Exposé Offers a PR Lesson In Access Journalism — Gadget Giant Leaves Gray Lady Out In the Cold By Breaking News Elsewhere

Apple is in the news for reasons other than the working conditions at Foxconn — but you wouldn't know that by reading the NY Times. For more than a week, the gadget giant has been seeding selected media outlets with early access to its next Mac operating system, dubbed Mountain Lion, and the Wall Street Journal's Jessica Vascellaro was recently offered a briefing by Apple marketing exec Phil Schiller and an exclusive interview with Apple CEO Tim Cook. Even Daring Fireball blogger John Gruber, who is known to write positively about Apple, described how he was summoned to a fancy hotel room in New York, given a polished one-on-one keynote presentation by Schiller, and sent home with a loaner MacBook Air pre-loaded with the new OS. "We're starting to do things differently," Schiller told Gruber. The Times, however, got skunked — no Cook interview, no quotes that weren't in the press release, and no call-back for Brian X. Chen, who penned the Foxconn exposé. Times all-star contributing columnist David Pogue got through to Schiller, but no regular Times journalist could make a dent. The reason for all this disrepect, the Washington Post's Erik Wemple speculates, was the hard-hitting Foxconn series the Times' ran last month. Foxconn assembles roughly 40% of the world's electronic devices, including those sold by Dells, HP and Sony — but the Times' series singled out Apple in way that many, including CEO Cook, thought was misleading and unfair. Was the cold shoulder the Gray Lady got this week really payback for the series? Reporters and editors at the Times seem to think so, Fortune reports.

Wemple got two quotes from the Times, one off the record, one on: "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," said one Times staffer anonymously. "We're never happy with our access to Apple. We never have been. Apple is a difficult company to report on," said Damon Darlin, the paper's tech editor, Fortune reports.

When asked how big a deal is the Journal's exclusive with Cook, Darlin said: "Talking to the CEO of one of the largest technology companies, the highest-valued company of the world? Yes, we would like to do that. They know that." Apple's strategy seems to be working — Mountain Lion got an extraordinary level of press coverage, reports Fortune writer Philip Elmer-DeWitt.

Comments

Dumb, arrogant, and it will come back to bite them

Apple will regret it's decision to play this stupid, petulant game. You don't win friends by denying the most important media outlet in the world access. They will not stop writing about Apple, they will just do it without the company's perspective because the company would rather sulk in the corner.

Let's kill the messenger who embarrassed us for paying slave wages in our factory instead of firing the factory managers who think that they can circumvent traditional US respect for workers and decent working conditions. Or maybe Apple doesn't really care if its factories in China have decent working conditions?

What message do they send by being mad at the Times? It seems to me they care more about getting caught running a sweat shop than about actually running it.

Apple was Right

Sometimes when you get burned by a media outlet, it's not about payback, but rather, self-preservation. Apple felt the coverage by the NYT was unfair. And as time goes by, while Foxconn employees live in deplorable conditions when compared to your average Teamster, it's becoming clear that the Times could have been playing dirty pool.

When you know any media outlet is out to get you, do you invite them to your party? I don't think so. I think Apple knows from it's recent experience, the Times will write what it wants, they just decided they're not going to keep taking it. Apple's big enough to make a statement like this and have it work out for the best over the long term. Good for Apple. It's good every now and then to remind the Times it's not really the most important media outlet in the world.

Stand by for unintended consequences

The New York Times burnished its journalistic credentials with the original story, now Apple is adding an extra layer of shine by reacting as to a sting. The Times is not anyone's first source for tech news, but this story, and the resultant flap, move it up a notch or two in importance. Thanks to Apple.

Apple has a well-earned reputation for being secretive and self-important. As long as customers remain cult-like in their devotion to Apple's products, the Company can get away with that. But, eventually, some other outfit will overtake or supplant Apple, and the aloofness and arrogance will backfire.

The Times needs Apple (more than Apple needs the Times), because it's a big and important company, and frequent source of legitimate news. But good journalism does not require insider access for coverage, and Apple has just made it more likely that reporters will look outside for sources. This can't be good for Apple, and can't be bad for the Times.

Re: unintended consequences

The manufacture of the gadgets that have become part of our lives, and made Apple a hugely profitable company in the meantime, has transformed Apple's operations into a lightning rod for outrage over worker conditions. Listeners to This American Life were let in on the sad story even before the Times article was released. http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/454/mr-daisey-and...

What was damning about the NYT story http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/26/business/ieconomy-apples-ipad-and-the-...
was that it went further in context and further in exploring corruption. In context, it was better able to show the matrix of conditions costs and imperatives that are involved with being an apple supplier and a worker at such a supplier. But in corruption, the NYT was able to get former apple employees to discuss the company's internal perspective on the problem, without being official mouthpieces. Culpability seemed to be at the heart of these admissions. What are we to say about that? Apple ruthlessly prevents outside access to its inner deliberations, and in some ways this culture of secrecy is good business practice, but in others, it allows sensational news items to define the company's story.

So now Apple is using its main currency, (thirst for details about the company), to attempt to control the story and diver the narrative away from the labor issue. It's an authoritarian move, and we shouldn't expect Apple to change that approach overnight any more than it can change Foxconn's practices overnight; in many ways that approach might continue to work.

Apple isn't just freezing out the NYT: it is freezing the citizens of the world and the community of its users from being stakeholders in Apple's governance.

I am the Elephant in the Room

A reality no one seems to want to face is that what is "deplorable" by one standard may be normal or competitive somewhere else. As Americans, we always seek to impose our definition of "normal" and "freedom" and "appropriate" on everyone else, when a big part of our economic problem is the cost and the cumbersome nature of American labor. Who are we to judge what people are paid or how they live in other places - those jobs may be highly regarded and very much sought-after in those countries. It is very expensive to manufacture tech gadgets in the USA, largely due to the bloated costs driven by union agendas - whatever you may think about them. The same people weeping and wailing about the labor conditions in some Asian country are driving $500 iPhones that would cost $1,500 if they made them here.

I've always found it hypocritical of us as a society to demand inexpensive technology and a strong dividend on our stock shares, but yet we attack our companies for what they must do to deliver that. If you read all of the stuff that's out there about Apple and companies like Foxconn, the main motive for using these folks is their unprecedented scale and their ability to stop on a dime, re-tool and push product out the door in short order whenever Steve Jobs would make one of his legendary last-minute shifts in a design. Obviously, cost is very significant, but ramping up operations to have 10,000 workers engaged in a day or two is not a thing that is available domestically. In a marketplace as competitive as ours, it is disingenuous of us to take cheap shots at companies who are trying to deliver what we demand. The guy who wrote that article probably drives an iPhone...

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