Apple and the Media

Originally posted on the ABC’s technology blog.

As this is my first column, I feel the need to justify its existence. Why all this attention to Apple? They’re just one company in a big melting pot of 21st century technological awesomeness. What makes Apple so special that they deserve a section all to themselves?

One could inclined to think that all the attention heaped on Apple is a glorious achievement of the Apple PR department, employing the greatest puppet masters to manipulate people with influence, to rant and rave about them. Perhaps even some under the table payola in return for coverage. Unfortunately, I assure you, this is not the case. Apple are one of the stingiest companies in the game when it comes to junkets, giveaways and community support. No goodie bags, no “free samples”, not even a crappy tin of mints emblazoned with an Apple logo. Ask any tech journalist to describe their relationship with Apple and anything other than lukewarm would mean you’re talking to Walt Mossberg or David Pogue. Apple’s hands off approach to PR, whilst different to the rest of the industry, seems to inadvertently get them more of the spotlight. The hype and attention for Apple is usually generated without the need for incentives beyond the fact that it’s an Apple related issue. In my mind, there’s a couple of reasons for this phenomenon.

First of all, there’s a massive Apple fanbase out there. Not many products or companies have such a loyal (or blinkered, depending how you perceive them) base that ardently defends and loves Apple at every opportunity. I’m sure everyone reading this blog either identifies themselves as such a person, or knows someone like this. The cult of Apple is out there and they’re quite a large audience. How this cult has grown, why it exists and the moral underpinnings of it are topics for another column, but they’re there and they’re one of the reasons Apple often gets the spotlight in areas you wouldn’t really think should or would care about Apple.

Then there’s the anti-Apple people who feel the need to deride Apple and their supporters, shouting loudly on blogs, forums and various social media sites. This deep seated resentment towards Apple includes various stings such as Apple products being shiny toys for people that can’t grasp regular computers, too expensive, not open enough, corporate dictatorship, tech industry stunting and de-pegging snobby Apple users – whatever. The reasons for their existence are varied, but like the Apple fanbase, they’re just as large and love reading when Apple fails or does something that doesn’t gel with their technological world view. People can get just as engrossed in the things they loathe (Apple), as the things they love (I dunno, umm, Microsoft? People love them right?).

The entire media spectrum also loves Apple. They rejoice when Apple succeed, as all the Apple fans tune in, read or listen – resulting in an increase in their stats, which means advertisers and executives are happy. The media also shouts fast and loud when Apple stuffs up, as all the anti-Apple people tune in, read or listen – also resulting in an increase in the outlet’s stats, which means advertisers and executives are happy again. Combined with the natural instincts of a journalist to dig, probe and exaggerate, Apple’s notorious secrecy, lack of traditional relationships with the media and the large hoard of Apple lovers and haters thrown in the mix, there is a neat little circle of life when it comes to reporting on Apple related stories that benefits everyone. The Apple lovers get to read stuff they can use to justify their position, the Apple haters get to read stuff that justifies their position, the journos get nice stats regardless of which position they take and Apple is happy as they get their name flashed across all forms of mass and social media.

After spending the past six years knee deep in the Apple swamp of news, rumours and fanboys (and for the most part, loving it), the above is what I conclude the entire environment to be. It’s quite a cynical picture, so how does this little column fit into that all? Doesn’t it just feed that cycle? I sincerely hope it doesn’t. That cycle is what gives us ugly situations like Gizmodo’s “discovery” of the iPhone 4 prototype. Or the whole Antennagate rigamarole. Two prime manifestations of the scenario I outlined above.

The justification for this column, in my mind at least, is the fact that Apple makes some of the most interesting mass market consumer products around right now. Think of what phones were like before the iPhone was released. What were tablet computers like before the iPad? What about computers before the Mac? Or even retail stores before Apple decided to launch their own. Remove the cynicism, the loathing, the self-centredness and the fanboyism from your opinions and take what Apple release at face value. When you do this, there is no doubt that Apple is blazing a path and wether you like them or not, they certainly can’t be ignored. Closing in on being the world’s largest company gives Apple an alluring glow – be it a white angelic glow, or an evil red glow, that attracts debate, admiration, criticism and analysis that this column will extrapolate upon over time, rather than feeding the hype and hate machine that is the usual Apple commentary.

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