Are Apple news media biased? Do they slant Apple news more positively and more often than other media sources? Does the tone of their articles typically suggest rooting for Apple’s success? Are their editorial positions significanly tilted in the direction of Apple? Do they seem a tad too quick to dismiss the merits of competitors’ products?
The answer to all of these questions is: Emphatically yes!
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However, I don’t see this as a criticism of Apple media. Rather, I view it as an inevitable, and to a large extent desirable, consequence of what it means to be Apple media.
Let’s start by laying out a definition. By “Apple media” I mean print and online sources that focus almost entirely on Apple-related news and opinion. Typically, such sites and/or publications have words like Apple, Mac, or iPhone in their name. Their Apple focus is thus clear before you read a single article.
This, of course, includes the two publications for which I write: The Mac Observer and Macworld. It also includes a host of other well-known sites, including several (such as The Loop and Daring Fireball) whose names don’t immediately conjure up an Apple logo.
Know thy audience
The origin of bias in Apple media traces back to the media’s readership. Success in journalism requires an audience. If no one is reading what you write, you’re just talking to yourself. To the extent that a media source expects to turn a profit, readership again matters. No audience means no money. In other words, Apple media, as with any media, are seeking readers.
Apple media, pretty much by definition, have a specific target audience: people with an interest in and preference for Apple products. How could it be otherwise? If you have little interest in Apple products and never plan to buy any of them, chances are slim that you will be spending time cruising Apple-related websites or subscribing to Apple-related publications. As most websites are free to browse, they may snag a wider audience than print publications. But the core web audience, the one that keeps returning on a regular basis, is almost certainly Apple-centric.
Put all of this together and the conclusion is clear: For Apple media to be successful, they will need to appeal to a pro-Apple audience. While this doesn’t mean media can’t ever be critical of Apple or its products, it does mean that, on balance, its news articles and editorial positions will be positive.
This is not a phenomenon specific to Apple media. It is true of any interest-specific media. For example, I strongly expect that almost all Field & Stream readers are interested in hunting, fishing and guns. Conversely, if you are an animal rights activist who wants stronger gun control laws, chances are poor that you subscribe to Field & Stream.
Apple media are even more narrowly focused than something like Field And Stream. Rather than appealing to a somewhat general topic of interest, such as computers or technology (the equivalent of hunting and fishing), Apple media focus on the products of just one technology brand: Apple. It’s the difference between, for example, Car and Driver vs. Corvette Magazine.
If anything, this narrower focus leads to a greater liklihood of a positive bias. You wouldn’t expect a sports car enthusiast to spend time reading Corvette media if they believed that Corvettes were the most inferior sports cars on the market. And you wouldn’t expect Corvette media to take a generally negative editorial position on the merits of Corvettes.
This is not a surprise. No one criticizes these publications for this expected slant.
And so it is with Apple media. If you want a steady diet of editorials stressing why Android phones are superior to iPhones, don’t look to Apple media. If you want news stories selected to show Apple in the harshest light, that seem to take pleasure in reporting every Apple setback and mistake, don’t look to Apple media. While reputable Apple media would never sugarcoat the truth, they may look for a legitimate positive spin on otherwise bad news.
Again, this is not to say that Apple media are never critical of Apple. They are. They can and will post negative reviews of Apple products, when warranted. And they can be critical of decisions Apple makes. However, such criticism usually emerges from a belief either that an Apple decision is counter to the company’s financial interests or that endusers would be better served by Apple going in a different direction.
In other words, even in criticism, the slant tends to remain positively biased: How can we fix things so that Apple is an even better company or so that its customers are even more satisfied? There is an underlying hope for Apple’s success, a desire to maintain what is assumed to be an overall superiority of Apple and its products. If you’ve read my columns over the years, you know that my own writing often falls into this category.
On the other side of the fence, when the news about Apple is positive (such as the record number of iPads sold over the launch week-end), Apple media typically report it with at least a hint of satisfaction that “we are winning” over the competition.
This is in contrast to mainstream media, such as The New York Times or NPR. Although conservatives would likely disagree, these media attempt to maintain strict standards of neutrality in their news reports. Opinion is reserved for columns and the op-ed page — and even here the media often offer a diverse array of opinions. [By the way, although David Pogue is a columnist for The New York Times, there is still an expectation that he be “neutral”; at one point, he devoted an entire column to proving he was not an “Apple fanboy.”]
Apple media are not neutral observers. How could they be? If there were no Macs or iOS devices, there would be no Apple media. The media’s survival depends on Apple. There is an unspoken pact between Apple media and its readers that we prefer our Apple news and opinion to be positive. And this influences what stories are selected to post and how they are slanted.
To be clear, I’m not talking here about the old debate as to whether advertising dollars influence editorial content. What I am saying has nothing to do with advertising. Rather it has to do with the basic nature of the relationship between an interest-specific media and its readers.
Know thy journalist
If you are a news reporter for an established source, say The New York Times or NPR, chances are you had some journalism or broadcasting background before your were hired. Maybe you have a college degree in journalism or you worked for smaller newspapers before moving up to The Times. Your general reporting skills, at least for an entry level hire, were likely more critical than your prior knowledge about any specific area you might wind up covering.
For Apple media, the criteria are different. Writers are much more likely to come from a background of expertise in technology than in journalism. True, this can apply to mainstream media as well. For example, The New York Times did not hire David Pogue because of his journalism background. But then David Pogue was hired as a columnist, not a news reporter.
These same mainstream publications typically have rules about what its reporters can say in public, especially on social media such as Twitter or Facebook (check out NPR’s Ethics Handbook for one such example). A reporter who regularly uses his Twitter account to rant against and insult the people and institutions he covers would certainly be chastised (perhaps fired).
For Apple media, there is typically no such restraint. On Twitter, for example, representatives of most, perhaps all, Apple media seem free to make the most inflammatory and biased posts with no repercussions.
All of this at least partly derives from the fact that people who wind up writing for Apple media generally had a passion for Apple before their arrival. They are not people who would be just as happy getting a paycheck from a PC media publication. This passion inevitably influences what is written. Again, this is both understood and expected by the media’s readers.
As I wrote this column, I found it hard to make generalities about Apple media, because the individual sources are so different. There’s a huge gap between Macworld (part of a large corporation that includes both print and online material) and The Mac Observer (a small company of a dozen or so employees) and something that is essentially a personal blog (such as Daring Fireball). What is true for one source is not always true for the others. As such, if you go searching, you can probably find at least one exception to every point I made.
Still, I believe the broad strokes are true across the board. Getting back to what I said at the top of this article: There is a bias in Apple media, one that is almost required by definition and that we should not seek to eliminate.
There is one final reason that Apple media tend to view Apple from positively: We have the wisdom to recognize that Apple and its products really are better than the competition. Wait…did I just show my bias?