It’s been more than a week since I asked a number of news organizations, chiefly the New York Times, to answer a few questions about their relationships with Apple. Specifically, I asked the Times to discuss what has become at least the appearance of a conflict of interest: Apple’s incessant promotion of the newspaper in pictures of its new iPad and highlighting of the Times’ plans to make the iPad a key platform for the news organization’s journalism, combined with the paper’s relentlessly positive coverage of the device in news columns.
In addition, 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) usurprising, but in light of other news this week it’s downright wrong.
UPDATE: A Times PR person emailed, 11 days after I first contacted the company about this, that the paper is “not going to comment.” Still no word from the others or, more recently, the Washington Post.
Yesterday, Nieman Journalism Lab’s Laura McGann had a story that should give pause even to Apple’s biggest fanboys and girls inside the news industry. In a post entitled “Mark Fiore can win a Pulitzer Prize, but he can’t get his iPhone cartoon app past Apple’s satire police,” she wrote of the newly minted Pulitzer winner in the cartooning category:
In December, Apple rejected his iPhone app, NewsToons, because, as Apple put it, his satire ‘ridicules public figures,’ a violation of the iPhone Developer Program License Agreement, which bars any apps whose content in ‘Apple’s reasonable judgement may be found objectionable, for example, materials that may be considered obscene, pornographic, or defamatory.’
My disdain for Apple’s tactics grows with almost week — and I’ll be saying more about that in a separate posting — but Apple isn’t the issue here. This is about journalism integrity, and the absolute lack of transparency America’s top news organizations are demonstrating by blowing off a totally reasonable question that these news people refuse to raise in their own pages to any serious degree. (The Times’ refusal to discuss its wider relationship with Apple is even more discouraging, and I’m getting close to selling my small stock holding to demonstrate my disgust with an organization I once absolutely revered.)
I was glad to see Columbia Journalism Review’s Ryan Chittum pursue this yesterday when he wrote, “It’s Time for the Press to Push Back Against Apple.” Will anyone? The early signs aren’t encouraging.
The answer is a qualified no. While I won’t personally want to participate as a journalist in an ecosystem where one company controls content in this way, I can understand why others might — but any self-respecting journalist would want to have absolute, in-writing guarantees that Apple could not in any way interfere with the journalism.
I see no sign of this. And I’m disgusted with journalists who participate in this system or ignore its implications, or both.