Are Apple Media Biased? Of Course

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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!

Apple Media Bias

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Newspaper image courtesy of Shutterstock 

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.

Summing up

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?

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14 Comments Leave Your Own

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

I’d describe the landscape this way… On the TMO and MacWorld end, you have authors who are genuinely enthused about Apple. Then you have professional fluffers like Gruber and Dilger. And the worst phenomenon (though a recent one, and probably a flash in the pan) is known astroturfer Florian M?eller.

The thing that’s most disappoint about Apple people and news these days is that one is expected to embrace the entire Apple ecosystem in order to be considered in good standing with the church. There are, however, lots of people who like the Macs but aren’t thrilled about Apple mobile or content, or just prefer some other company’s mobile or content. The spectrum of Mac news really doesn’t do a lot to appeal to us. And the shrill end of the Mac news spectrum (read Gruber and Dilger) are just annoyingly shallow.

Bryan Chaffin

Brad, I strongly disagree with your characterization of Florian Mueller. I’ve read him extensively and what I’ve read in no way matches my perception of your perception.

His commentary on Apple and the patent wars involving Apple have has been nuanced, and it contains a mix of positive and negative commentary on Apple’s strategies, legal arguments, tactics, and maneuverings.

He has been consistent on both the positive and negative views when applied to Apple, its competition, and to parties outside of the Android/iOS patent wars (he comments on other patent issue, too).

That said, I don’t want to derail the conversation. Ted’s piece raises a lot of interesting points and ideas.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

GrokLaw outed him as a paid astroturfer back in the SCO days. Funny part is that back then, I bought into what he was spinning. His game now is a little more subtle, along the lines of what Mac people have derided Rob Enderle for.

Anyway Bryan, Florian is the guy who, last summer, got many here excited about the prospects of Oracle suing Android out of existence. Turns out that Oracle’s damages expert, Iain Cockburn (yes, that’s his last name) has revised damages down from billions to less than $50M, or basically, Oracle should have settled this for what Google originally offered Sun for a fully encompassing Java license, ~$100M.

Florian tells you what you’d like to hear, but he’s full of beans. Sorry.

Bryan Chaffin

In that Florian Mueller has been critical of Apple and some of its tactics, your claim is baseless.

Sorry.

zewazir

“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…”

On the contrary, I’ve seen lots of people whose purpose in life seems to be perusing and flame baiting Apple centric websites. Their only interest seems to be finding anything negative they can about Apple, even if it means making things up.  I never have understood that phenomenon, but it surely exists.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

In that Florian Mueller has been critical of Apple and some of its tactics, your claim is baseless.

Sorry.

It just means you haven’t figured out who is paying him now. The whole Lodsys thing, with him advising developers to just pay up, was both disheartening and quite damaging to many developers. Meanwhile, both Apple and Google legal were attacking the claims from all conceivable directions. Those attacks don’t materialize overnight and a so-called “patent expert” providing “business advice” should probably have some sense of that. I hope that is not (in your mind) an example of Mueller being critical of Apple. It was really nothing more than an example of self-interested d-baggery. There was absolutely no reason why any developer should have considered any settlement for at least a year after receiving notice. The process + the obvious legal strategy on display should have made that obvious enough. And Florian was telling developers to just settle. That is beyond weird because incompetence doesn’t begin to explain it. Put aside the anti-Android cheerleading he does so well. This Lodsys thing was nefarious.

Lee Dronick

As Zewazir says there are people who come in to troll or astroturf, but this website isn’t too bad in that regard. It seems more of a problem on sites that cover a wider spectrum of computer, tablet, and smart phone brands.

mhikl

On the other hand, the impartial Consumer Reports says the new iPad is 12 to 13 degrees HOT over the previous iPad. It continues using hot, hotter, and hottest, ad nauseam, only to finally admit the iPad can feel very warm but not especially uncomfortable. It?s only fair everyone gets the chance to express biases in these things, it seems.

Thanks to Gruber for pointing out the site which makes the summary.

Meanwhile, Apple rakes in the sales and the profits to claim the highest corporate value. It produces products, designs* and innovations that are modelled and straight out monkeyed because they are the envy of every other competing company around, all of which seem too lazy or short on foresight to do their own investing. Maybe this is why Apple interest sites can get away with congratulatory expounding whilst the likes of the Android clan draws powerful snickering when attempting the same. (Ouch! I strained a ha ha muscle whilst finishing the last part of that sentence. Nelson would be proud.)

* wanted to include regular updates but this aspect of Apple’s arsenal is not regularly copied.

Nicolas diPierro

Let’s also not forget, Apple is now enjoying its Karmic come-uppance. In the 90’s, the company had not a friend in the (larger, mainstream) media. If Apple did something right, it didn’t matter because it was perpetually “beleaguered,” in a death-spiral.

And at least for Americans, I’d imagine (as I am one) Apple represents something good and positive. Apple is something we can really be proud of. Something we export to the world that improves people’s lives.

PSMacintosh

There was a major change in the 90s.
Prior to that, the Apple Media was more “radical” and free in voicing its critical opinion about issues. They wanted to help Apple improve itself.
In the 90s, we didn’t allow the Apple Media to be even slightly negative—because any critical comment was misused and taken out of context by the mainstream press with their constant chant of “Apple is DEAD”.
The Apple Media became milk toast for 25 years .  They don’t stand up for any issue against Apple. They don’t rally the users.

kayeu

Let?s also not forget, Apple is now enjoying its Karmic come-uppance. In the 90?s, the company had not a friend in the (larger, mainstream) media. If Apple did something right, it didn?t matter because it was perpetually ?beleaguered,? in a death-spiral.

I remember those days. The good bad old days. Apple was perpetually going down the gurgler. Even when it wasn’t. In the 80s and 90s, Mac users started to advocate their platform. That’s when the “cult” started. It was because we were in a minority. We were under siege. When the Macintosh began it was very different from anything else commercially available. There were real reasons why Mac users were passionate about their chosen platform. It wasn’t about the brand.

But I look now and a lot of it is about the brand. Apple is cool. Apple are big winners. Apple stuff is highly desirable. And that’s for the mainstream: ordinary people who know nothing about Apple, or computers, or the history of personal computing. The mainstream media coverage of the iPad 3 launch has been staggering. In fact, downright embarrassing. Yes, Apple is having its come-uppance and that’s gratifying but times have changed. 

I know old habits die hard, but this company simply does not require advocacy anymore. There’s really no need for the Apple Media. Unless it does indeed become more critical again. At the moment it survives because there’s so many new young “fanboys” (and “fangirls”) for whom Apple is hip and cool. But Apple Media is no longer tilting at the windmills. It’s just pure propaganda for a very large, very rich multinational corporation.

wab95

Ted:

An insightful and succinct summary of why Apple-centric media both exist and what one can/should expect of them.

I view these as sites (my reading bias is exposed here, as I do nearly all of my tech reading online) where people with a fond interest in Apple can commingle, exchange ideas, and learn from each other. I concur wholeheartedly that it is the responsibility of media, Apple-centric or otherwise, to be critical where the writer believes criticism is due, whether or not the majority of readership agree. It is in honest debate, and the free exchange of ideas and opinion that the community of Apple clients learn and grow, and along with them, the ecosystem that they have come to champion.

What is irrational is the behaviour of those who passionately dislike Apple, who then come to Apple-centric sites and pour scorn and derision on those who happily use their products and services; as well as those in the Apple-client community who take heated exception to anyone who takes issue with something Apple have done. What both extremists share is an intolerance for opinions who differ from their own (Europeans have known this as ‘fascism’, but I digress), and it is at once arrogant and destructive to the process of growth and development.

A company, no less than a community of clients, can only grow when challenged to be their very best, and nothing less.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

What is irrational is the behaviour of those who passionately dislike Apple, who then come to Apple-centric sites and pour scorn and derision on those who happily use their products and services;

Here’s some scorn and derision for you this morning, courtesy of Business Week. There is nothing “irrational” about having a strong opinion and expressing it. In fact it’s way more rational than you imagine. For a primer on how the expression of opposite, conflicting views can lead to greater knowledge, I recommend this podcast with Internet guru David Weinberger (notably of Cluetrain fame).

One of the benefits of bringing some reality into centers of distorted reality is that it’s great practice for the real world. When a client asks me why we just don’t go all in with Apple gear and services, I can confidently tell them, “Because f—- you, that’s why and you’ll thank me later.”

wab95

There is nothing ?irrational? about having a strong opinion and expressing it. In fact it?s way more rational than you imagine.


Brad,

Good to ‘hear your voice’ again.

Not only do I take your point, you’ve just pointedly underscored mine. I openly endorse diversity of opinion. It is one of the reasons that TMO has become one of my favoured sites. It is one of the few sites where readers take time to post thoughtful, and generally mutually tolerant if not respectful, posts, not to mention those by TMO staffers themselves.

Where I diverge is the hurling of personal insult and invective that passes for exchange of views or divergent opinion. As your example of what you tell your clients above illustrates, the whole point of exchanging ideas and information is the adoption, not simply of your ideas by another, but modification of behaviour that creates a more robust, user-friendly environment. You are trying to leave your clients better off, telling them that they will thank you for it later. If by the nature of one’s expression of those ideas, one hardens opposition to one’s point of view, as numerous studies have shown, then one has defeated the whole purpose of exchanging those ideas, even more so than had one not even uttered them, in the first place.

It is from the clash of differing opinions, and not pointless personal insult and injury, that consensus is achieved, and the most enduring and robust solutions emerge.

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