Apple, the media and temptation

It’s so tempting.

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.

So tempting.

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:

Why journalism organizations should reconsider their crush on Apple’s ipad

In his most recent post, Gillmor says:

Fiore’s iPad rejection harbinger of a bigger story

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…

Apple reconsiders

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.

Cassandra contemplates the iPad 1.0

It’s  iPad day in the geek world, April 2, 2010, the day that Apple releases the long-awaited iPad.

Cassandra, is worried, but unfortunately no one listens to her. People should listen.

Millions apparently have already rushed online and pre-bought or pre-ordered an iPad 1.0, just as others lined up for Iphones a while ago. Then from my friends with 3G Iphones, especially those in New York, came the tweeted, blogged and voiced complaints about poor connections to wireless networks and poor battery life if you have too many of those delicious, but power-draining apps.

As for myself,  I’m going to wait and see how the iPad actually works.  Whatever happened to the old adage of never buy Version 1.0 of anything?

Just how good is the iPad battery life?

What about predictions that the iPad will overwhelm bandwidth in some parts of the world?

Just how will the public react to news originally from newspapers, wire service or TV on the iPad?

Will the public pay for news on an iPad? Some media outlets say they will charge for material on the Ipad, others say they won’t charge.   That media question alone will keep economics students writing their Phds long after the current crop of iPads is being torn apart by child labour in some developing world hell hole.

I decided that my own media preview of the iPad was in order.


So through sources on Mt. Olympus (I have family connections in that part of Greece) I asked Hermes, god of both messengers and thieves, to use his skills to obtain an iPad from Cupertino and deliver it to Cassandra, the princess from Troy who had great beauty and the gift of true prophecy but was cursed by Apollo (whom she spurned) so that no one would believe her prophecies.

It was Cassandra who warned the Trojans not to bring that wooden horse inside the city walls.

Her first reaction was, “What do I need this for? Since Apollo’s snakes licked my face, I can see all and know all.”

“I can tell you this,” Cassandra told me in an interview from an undisclosed location. “There will be unintended and surprising consequences from this iPad thingy.

“There was a day like this, not long ago, Oct. 13, 1994, when the beta version of Netscape Navigator was released. I said then that this Netscape would change the entire world within days, and no one listened, and Netscape did, the world, until today, has run on browsers.  Now there are iPads. Of course, I warned Netscape there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch, but did they listen? No.

“Take that all seeing eye, the digital camera.  At first, the digital camera was expensive, and only a few professionals used one. Now millions have digital cameras and it is destroying the world of professional photography– although that world can be rebuilt in time.”

“Some expert last year welcomed the world inside what he called the castle walls of journalism in encouraging ‘user generated content.’     Well the Trojans welcomed that horse, despite my warnings, and we know what happened….

“The city was destroyed?” I asked.

“Oh that too,” Cassandra snorted.  “But can you count just how many bards, poets, writers, artists,  potters,  painters,  historians, archaeologists,  actors, movie makers, TV producers, game designers have been living off that story for the past three thousand years? Not to mention what’s coming up in 2025…..”

“What in 2025?”

“You wouldn’t believe me,  even if I told you.”  .

“So what changes will the iPad bring?”

“Well these ones you will believe because all have happened so many times before.  

“One. The war between the creators of content and the  computer engineers goes on and on just like the wars with the centaurs.  I see no end there. 

“About ten years ago, I appeared in human form at a conference of media executives. I warned them that while they had to spend money on computers, their bards and chroniclers were their most important asset.  Did they believe me? No, they didn’t. Now for every journalist they can out on to the street they have to hire three IT people.   The iPad doesn’t run Flash. That means hiring more IT people to do the same work over and over, while throwing away the people who actually create the content.  But did anyone listen? No.

“Two.  Not all centaurs were bad guys of course, look at Chiron. Some years from now, some kid will find a new and amazing way to use not just the iPad but all the tablets out there.”

“Who, what, where?”

“You wouldn’t believe me. But believe me, that kid will be fabulously rich before he’s 28.”

“Three. A lost or misplaced iPad will be the centre of a major world crisis before the year 2020.”

“What will happen?”

“You won’t believe me, even if I told you.”

“How will the iPad change journalism?”

“There will be a new device, after the iPad. It too will come from a geeky kid, in a workshop, somewhere in the developing world. Even my vision cannot see where or when this will happen.

“The browser, the smart phone, the tablet/ipad, no these will remain but this new, new thing, that will be the most profound change of all. The creators will once again be able to earn their coins. But there will be many more creators.

“Can you tell me some details?”

“You wouldn’t believe me…..”

“What do you think of the iPad?”

“The battery run out too soon.  I asked Hermes to return it.”

“Thank you Cassandra.”

“Thank you. There’s one prophecy you can believe. Copy desks around the world are going to hate the spelling i-P-a-d”

“You’re right. Thank you again.”

The ‘future of news’ from 18 years ago.

The prophet spoke in the fall of 1992. 
Cassandra was alive in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  As Cassandra warned the Trojans,  she was ignored.  You, the news executive, were warned. And you ignored it  The World Wide Web destroyed your business model.

I am cleaning out old files and found a proposal from the MIT Media Lab in 1992 for a “News in the Future” study consortium, with a prospective launch date of Feb. 1, 1993.

Here is what the executive abstract said:

When we think of news, we think of how we receive it: by newspaper , magazine, television and radio.  We think of the range of coverage from  international to our local neighborhood.  And we think of various categories like sports, weather and finance. The organizing elements come from the information provider, broadcasting to a demographic  group, large or small. The delivery of news is usually funded by advertising, resulting in a kind of roulette for the advertiser and noise for the reader.  In the future the consumer will decide  if the output is to be audio, video or print.  The organizing element will be the consumer.  And advertisements  will be welcome news.  How will this transformation  of the passive to the active consumer happen?

Well, the transformation was brought by something called the Internet (which was around in 1992 but not mentioned in the proposal ).  

The organizing element is the consumer.

They were right.   The nine page document gives what may one of the first references to the “Daily Me.”

Some more gems

One heading More than keywords can say, calling (in academic language)  ways of finding the conceptual relationships between keywords.   And behold,  then came Google.

Here is what the proposal says about story telling, predicting:

a story teller system produces narrative tailored to what is knows –and learns– of a consumer’s  background, preferences and interests. Stories emerge dynamically as the system mediates between the user and the element.  Questions and criticisms  yield new sequences of video, sound and explanation in reply.

The sounds a little like User Generated Content.   Twitter is a dynamic information system where the media and the citizen exchange information with immediacy in real time, as the events in Haiti have shown. Youtube recuts present “new sequences of video and sound.”
Blogs present questions and criticisms which often have to be answered and also create new sequences of explanation.

There is one idea that is still  pending and still debated.  The last item in the proposal “The Feel of Paper”

Printing on paper is a mature, ubiquitous and very successful  technology for information display, Among its strengths are low cost, robust  portability, high resolution and contrast and its intuitive tactile  user interface.  ON the other hand, it suffers from severe limitations  of both permanence  (the information cannot be easily modified) and impremanence (the  information is destroyed  if the paper is destroyed)  Existing digital information  systems easily remedy thse constraints but fail  to capture many of the strengths of paper. We will be exploring  user force sensing  and generation to provide  tactile  I/O  for information systems(such as flipping pages or locating markers), hybrid active/passive display materials for more accessible portability and conceivably reusable paper for printing in the home.

Will the launch of the Apple tablet later this week solve that dilemma, providing an “intuitive tactile user interface.”  Or will it be another cold piece of technology? We’ll know soon.

If the Trojans had listened to Cassandra, they would not have brought the horse within the walls of the city. 

While not all the work from the MIT media lab has come to pass, as predicted, in the beginning there were those words on nine pages of  laser printing, that if at least some executives had considered a possible prophecy, perhaps the news business would not see the walls breached and the kingdoms falling. 

ALERT: Journalism students are an indicator species.

Journalism is in crisis.

So it’s now time to realize that journalism students are an “indicator species.”

Wikipedia defines an indicator species in biology  this way:

An indicator species is any biological species that defines a trait or characteristic of the environment… Indicator species can be among the most sensitive species in a region, and sometimes act as an early warning to monitoring biologists.

Wikipedia goes on to give seven sub definitions  for indicator species.  In my view, in the current media environment journalism students fit sub definitions 6 and 7.

  • a species thought to be sensitive to and therefore to serve as an early warning indicator of environmental changes such as global warming or modified fire regimes (sometimes called a bioindicator species)
  • a management indicator species, which is a species that reflects the effects of a disturbance regime or the efficacy of efforts to mitigate disturbance effects.

(my emphasis)

For the past twenty years, journalism students have been serving as an early warning indicator of the changes coming in the media.  Those warnings have, for the most part,  been ignored by the faculty of most journalism schools, and more important, by the executives and managers of most media organizations.

 How journalism students have regarded the media, the newspapers, television, the web,  reflect in the effects of a disturbance regime in the media ecosystem– the rise of the World Wide Web and  the failure of the majority of media executives and managers to adapt realistically to a rapidly changing world.

Earlier today, a posting by a journalism professor at Carleton University in Ottawa  called  “My students don’t have TVs” triggered a lot of Tweets and interest

Marilyn Mercer, as is common among j-profs, assigned her broadcast news students to watch the major Canadian national network newscasts.

She says:

I began this course assigning weekly analysis of the flagship nightly newscasts at CTV and CBC.  At first, some students panicked. “I don’t have cable,” said one. “Nor TV,” said another. Knowing this was about marks, they went online to or and started watching stories that often begin with [CBC Anchor} Peter [Mansbridge] or [CTV anchor]  Lloyd [Robertson].

(Note I currently work for CBC News as a photo editor and in my career at both CBC and at CTV  I have worked with both Peter Mansbridge and Lloyd Robertson)

Mercer asked her students to take a look at the controversial relaunch of CBC news on October 26, including the change from CBC Newsworld to the new CBC News Network.
Mercer says:

None of them had yet watched CBC NN, but said they’d heard about “how people don’t like it.”

She is concerned in her post about the content of the news, which I won’t go into for the purpose of this post.

But on the medium itself, Mercer also says:

CBC’s The National can probably forget about getting my class demographic, even if they are j-school students. This generation wears the news in their clothing and won’t make an appointment to view it late in the evening. They monitor their hand-held devices throughout the day often after texts from friends to check out something, on YouTube, or like the boy in the balloon.

The first  reaction in online comments to Mercer’s post  is typical

So… these kids want to be broadcast journalists but don’t even own/watch TV?
This is a joke, right?

Claude Adams, another former CBC journalist, now a freelancer and teacher responded in the comments:

Alas, not a joke at all. I got the same general response a few years ago from a class of graduate-level broadcast journalism students here on the west coast. Many didn’t watch TV news unless it  was assigned.

A number of them said “it isn’t relevant” although they thought that [Comedy Central’s] Jon Stewart and  [CBC’s] George Stroumboulopoulos were cool.
Two weeks ago, I asked a class of 4th year communications students at the U of Windsor what they thought of The National’s new look. Not a single one had watched. “You are exactly the demographic that the CBC is courting,” I told them. They shrugged.

Here is proof that J-students are an indicator species.

That attitude is not limited to the journalism schools. Another study, also tweeted today, of American students, Alloy Media + Marketing’s 9th annual College Explorer Survey, projected annual technology spending among college students (ages 18-30), showed that

Students are spending twice as much time on their computers as compared to television viewing 33% of 18-24 year old students have increased their consumption of webisodes or user-generated videos since last year, and 30% of 18-30 year olds report frequent video viewing on social networking sites

Let’s turn the clock back about 15 years, when I began teaching (as a part -time instructor)  investigative reporting at Ryerson University School of Journalism.
In the winter semester of 1995, when I introduced final year and grad students to Computer-Assisted Reporting, I had to teach half the students a lot about computers.

 Two years later,  that sort of basic teaching was no longer necessary, the students were all computer wizards and so I could get right to the heart of Computer-Assisted Reporting.

That was the same time journalism faculty across the continent began to ring alarm bells.  “They’re not reading newspapers!”  

By that time of course, most major news organizations (but not all)  had created news websites and that was where many students were already getting their news.

The first reaction at most journalism schools was something like this: “So the little monsters aren’t  reading newspapers. Well, we’ll make them read newspapers by giving them news quizzes.”

Then there were the usual remarks about how bad, lazy, the younger generation was.  Of course,  older adults have been saying that at least since students in ancient Athens gathered to listen to Socrates. (It probably goes back at least to the first scribe schools in ancient Sumeria but so far as I know there wasn’t a Sumerian Plato to record the remarks).

When I was a grad student at Carleton (74-75) we did have a couple of  news quizzes,  but they were challenging scavenger hunts.

We devoured newspapers. 

First thing I did each morning was open the door of my old Ottawa apartment (if it was New York or Boston it would be probably be called brownstone)  and grab The Globe and Mail, which had a new investigative story almost every morning.

Assigning a news quiz didn’t make the students of the late 1990s grab a newspapers first thing in the morning.

I stopped working at Ryerson in 2001.  I returned for one semester in 2004, to help teach first year students. By then the news quiz  had changed.  No longer a scavenger hunt for kids who devoured  newspapers (the carrot) nor a way of forcing them to read newspapers (the stick), instead the news quiz was now a time limited exercise in searching Google News.

If those students  from the mid-1990s are still lucky enough to have jobs in newspapers, they may read their own rag in print, but are highly unlikely to read the opposition in print, instead they are going online.

Their contemporaries are not reading newspapers. That’s why the business is in trouble.

Journalism students were and are an indicator species.

This is similar to what Mercer notes her post, “Knowing this was about marks….”  that made the students rush to their computers to watch the online versions of the network newscasts.

Now we see the same trend in broadcast and cable television, as we saw in newspapers a decade ago,  where the younger audience is drifting away.

It is the same argument I had with journalism profs (most weren’t listening)  when I attended conferences in the 90s.  If you can’t get journalism students to read your product, how to expect the rest of the generation to read it?

Broadcast executives around the world say they want the younger audience, the 18-34 or 40 demographic demanded by advertisers.  But they want that audience to fit into their metrics. They don’t want to give the audience what they want to see or hear.

Ask anyone of that age  and you quickly learn that broadcasting is not serving that audience.

Last summer, on Vancouver Island, I went to photograph some Canada Day fireworks with a friend who is in his 20s,  more than 30 years younger than me.   That evening I hung out with some of his friends (none of them in journalism).  They told me that they didn’t listen to the three private-sector radio stations in the area.

“They’re all the same,” one guy said.

Of course, they all sound  the same, the days of a individual DJ are decades dead. 

What those stations broadcast is “mix,”  play-list pap that comes out some consultant’s office, likely in Los Angeles. 

My friend who is a part time DJ,  says these days if anyone requests a tune that he doesn’t have in his system, he (honestly paying for it) downloads it from Itunes into his Iphone and then transfers it to his music system. Who needs playlist pap?

What I did find interesting was that these 20-odd year-olds liked and listened to CBC’s information radio at a time when the stereotype, even within the CBC, is that the audience consists of aging boomers.

Those guys also listened to the online CBC Radio 3.  I found the same thing last weekend at a session of a conference of student newspaper journalists at Wilfred Laurier University where I was one of the speakers.  Most of the students listened to Radio 3’s eclectic mix of largely Canadian original music.


Then New Democratic Party leader David Lewis (right) and political columnist Anthony Westell speak to Carleton University grad journalism students in the fall of 1975. (copyright Robin Rowland)

Back to Carleton for a moment.  It’s in Canada’s capital, blocks from Parliament Hill.  The Carleton Journalism program has a well-earned reputation for turning out political reporters.  In 74-75. we had guest speakers,  party leaders and top journalists, come to our class.  I am pretty sure people from the Hill  still show up at Carleton from time to time.

Now in 2009, you can’t get journalism students in the national capital to watch the major national newscasts?   If you can’t get journalism students in a political city to watch the major newscasts, how do you expect the rest of the generation to watch those shows?

There are reasons, of course, not just that the times they are a changing,  that the students don’t have TVs and cable.

Cable is too expensive, my Rogers bill is $71.72 a month. I wonder if it is worth it.
Cable certainly isn’t worth it for a student, likely overburdened by student loan debt, with not that many job prospects in the current economy, who can get specifically online what they want they want to watch.

 I  know more and more  friends actually in broadcasting, from people in their 20s, through boomers to retired folks, who are canceling their cable and relying on over-the-air HD antennas or HD USB antennas plugged into their laptops to watch broadcasts and who watch everything else online.

Enjoying their current multimillion dollar incomes, the cable companies aren’t noticing.  Yet

Just as newspapers didn’t notice a decade ago.

 The networks around the world are likely feeling a bit of a chill wind, but they prefer to continue on a consultant driven path to who knows where.

Journalism students are an indicator species.

I am not saying (yet) that journalism schools give up their mission.

But let’s get real.  The majority of students in journalism school or working on student newspapers these days are entering the profession knowing that the media is  in a big mess and they still want to be journalists.  That really is reason for optimism.

So J-schools, it’s time to stop worrying about the delivery system, the newspapers, the television, the web or whatever appears out of the silicon universe a year or two from now.

Do what you should be doing.   Teach strong story telling. No matter what the medium.

Did I say that journalism students are an indicator species?

Yes. I did.

That mean’s there’s good news for journalism.
From the young folks I know, from the ones I’ve met either in person or online, I have confidence that the new generation of journalism students and young working journalists will be remembered as “a greatest generation” and I will tell you why in my next post in a couple of days.

Journalism students ARE an indicator species.