The news media is in deep financial trouble, especially in the United States, where the economy is still weak.
Now comes a promising savior, a popular device that once again might mean that the public pays for news media content. It’s called the iPad, and it’s made by Apple.
Ironic that in popular mythic culture in the west, it is the apple that is the symbol of the tempting fruit in the Garden of Eden.
Apple is tempting the media.
As the King James version of the Bible says “The serpent was more subtle than any beast of the field…”
Genesis says of the tree of knowledge, and poor Eve, who is blamed once she “saw that the tree was…pleasant to the eyes and a tree to be desired to make one wise…..
The iPad is a knowledge device. The iPad is pleasing to the eyes and perhaps the iPad can make one wise.
There’s a catch.
Put your content on the iPad and you cede control of your content to Apple.
The castle gatekeeper
It is Dan Gillmor on Mediaactive and Jack Shafer in Slate who both warn that the there are bigger issues involved,
Apple’s aim to control the draw bridge, the castle gate and the castle towers.
Shafer in his article warns Apple wants to own you.Welcome to our velvet prison say the boys and girls from Cupertino.
Shafer follows the controversy from its beginning and says:
it’s easy to see that Apple’s rules are more about blunting competitors and creating a prudish atmosphere guaranteed to offend nobody than they are about throttling viruses and improving the user experience. I don’t think Apple should be enjoined from imposing its dictatorial edicts about what can and can’t run on iPhones, as long as consumers know the score going in.
But do they know the complete score? With the release of the iPad, Apple has hastened its censoring, competition-blocking ways. Even though the iPad doesn’t connect to the telephone system, Apple is still insisting on locking the device down as though it were an iPhone: No third-party apps can run on it unless they’re approved by Apple.
Apple wants to play gatekeeper so it can establish itself as toll-taker.
Dan Gillmor first warned about Apple’s plans in February with:
In his most recent post, Gillmor says:
I asked the Times, the Wall Street Journal and USA Today — following up on a February posting when I asked why news organizations were running into the arms of a control-freakish company — to respond to a simple question: Can Apple unilaterally disable their iPad apps if Apple decides, for any reason, that it doesn’t like the content they’re distributing? Apple has done this with many other companies’ apps and holds absolute power over what appears and doesn’t appear via its app system.
Who responded? No one. Not even a “No comment.” This is disappointing if (sadly) unsurprising…
Neiman Labs which first broke the story that Apple was refusing to allow Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist Mark Fiore to produce an cartoon syndication app now says the company is reconsidering, as Laura McGann reports:
After our story ran, Fiore got a call from Apple — four months after receiving a rejection email — inviting him to resubmit his NewsToons app. Fiore says he resubmitted it this morning. We’ll keep you posted on what happens. If history is a guide, though, this is likely to be good news for Fiore. Tom Richmond’s Bobble Rep app was initially rejected, then approved after a firestorm of online criticism. Daryl Cagle went through something similar last year.
Pulling up the drawbridge
Social media advocates have likened the news media to a castle and say that the rise of user generated content and citizen journalism is opening the gates, as Charlie Beckett said in his Polis blog, on June 19, 2009 (Polis is a joint journalism project with the London School of Economics and the London College of Communications)
…most media fortresses are opening up. They have lowered the draw‑bridge. They have invited the local peasantry inside and some of the brave editorial knights are learning about life outside of the castle.
Now with the iPad, the gates are guarded, may even close.
Shafer says in Slate, paraphrasing Frédéric Filloux
Filloux, who writes for Monday Note, agree that what Apple wants is to replace the commodity-distribution channel that is the Web and replace it with an Apple-owned distribution channel for applications, music, movies, books, and anything else that can travel down a wire or through the ether…..
Apple isn’t the only behemoth bullying its way in the marketplace. Filloux identifies Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and Yahoo as companies seeking to replace (or augment) the commodified Web with something more proprietary and lucrative. Apple is just the most conspicuous in its efforts.
Castles, historians will tell you, are not defensive, they are an offensive weapon, aimed at control, whether it was the Welsh borders or the heights overlooking the war scarred Middle East.
So the social peasantry are invited in, as long as they pay the toll, behave and pay fealty to the baron.
Signing away your company’s soul to Apple may not be a bad deal for the current crop of mostly aging oligarchs who pretend to manage the news media today, gathering huge salaries and bonuses while the business is dying from a thousand cuts. After all for those managers, especially those who came from the corporate world with no experience or respect for the traditions of news media independence, it’s just another corporate deal.
Dealing with Apple to get on the iPad and the iPhone, the way Apple wants, full control, is like someone who renovates a building and one by one takes out the support beams and load bearing walls.
For the news media, the load bearing wall of the building is credibility and the news media’s credibility is now at an all time low, despite the efforts of the thousands of men and women in news to do the best job they can. There are many reasons for the decline in credibility. Part of the problem is that many of more conservative readers and viewers just don’t want to believe in the world as it exists, they long for a past era and call reporting of today “bias.” Part of the problem comes from the pressure from news consultants and the managers who hire those consultants to concentrate just on sensational “wow and now” content. Part of the problem is that the news media is generally seen as failing in his public duty (even though definitions of public duty differ) by bowing to government or corporate interests.
The debate over Apple’s control is currently confined to those who are concerned about the future of the news media. There is a parallel debate among software developers who are chafing at Apple’s strict controls over code.
If the media accede to Apple’s control, then very soon will come a tipping point. Apple will arbitrarily block or censor some item of content, probably not realizing the significance of that content.
That censorship will be revealed by a blogger or by rival media and from that moment on the public will no longer trust the (at least the news) content on an Apple device.
That is the day the Credibility Building collapses into a pile of bricks and stone, the day the castle itself collapses.
Update: Censoring the dictionary
A reader sent me this link, showing how absurd the Apple censorship has become.
From engadget Apple’s new low, censoring a dictionary refusing to allow Ninjawords to be an app unless “objectionable words” were removed.
“We were rejected for objectionable content. They provided screenshots
of the words ‘shit’ and ‘fuck’ showing up in our dictionary’s search
Joshua Topolsky of engadget comments: “it’s making the company that asked everyone to “Think Different” look like a company that can’t think at all.”
Let that be a warning not only to the news media but all book publishers out there.
The news media may not want to quote a soldier swearing in combat in Afghanistan.
Apple will object.
If you want to make sure that your book gets published on the iPad, make the characters all 1920s style clean-cut, all Americans, who never say a nasty word That is if you can find such a book these days.
Make the book sure it is acceptable to someone who has never left Cupertino even if it is set outside the walls of windy Troy or on a blasted heath or in a game keeper’s cottage, among the naked and the dead in the south Pacific or even on the Klingon homeworld.