Washington Post and NPR: Yes, Apple Can Block Their iPad Journalism


A few days ago, following up on questions I’ve asked a number of other news organizations about their relationships with Apple, the Washington Post’s Rob Pegoraro put a query to his bosses — and, unlike me with any traditional news company (including his), got an answer.

Here’s the operative quote from his story today, entitled “App rejected? There’s a rule for that” —

So, can Apple remove news organizations’ apps for their content? Washington Post spokeswoman Kris Coratti wrote that “this is our understanding”; National Public Radio’s Danielle Deabler agreed but said NPR saw no evidence that Apple wanted to do such a thing. Publicists for the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, CNN and USA Today declined to comment or did not reply to e-mails.

We now have confirmation from two of America’s most respected news organizations — the Post and NPR — that they willingly participate in a distribution/access ecosystem where the company that owns it can remove their journalism from that system for any reason it chooses.

I suspect that the spokeswomen for the Post and NPR have technically violated the terms of their companies’ developers agreements with Apple even by saying that much. Which is, of course, part of the problem.

Anyway, kudos to Pegoraro, who has shown more spine than his colleagues at other news organizations. From all appearances, they’re just hoping this will all go away. It won’t.

UPDATE: At the International Symposium on Online Journalism today in Austin, I asked three panelists — from NPR, the New York Times and the Guardian — about this issue. Only NPR’s Kinsey Wilson responded, and he was more forthright than I’ve heard anyone be from any media company so far.

The situation is “not ideal,” he acknowledged. No news organization, he assumes, has the individual leverage with Apple to insist on contract terms that should be standard for people who believe in their journalism.

NPR, based on Wilson’s other panel comments, is creating what sounds like a multi-platform strategy: creating a back-end system that can feed to any platform. All smart news organizations are trying to move this way.

16 thoughts on “Washington Post and NPR: Yes, Apple Can Block Their iPad Journalism”

  1. I’m not sure if I understand the point here. Are you trying to say that Apple, unlike other vendors of books, magazines and newspapers should not have the right to decide what products populate it’s shelves?

    1. The physical-world analogy is only apt to a point (there’s no physical space limitation online, whereas there is in a newsstand). Apple is much more than a single retail vendor. It is operating a platform that serves as the medium and the distribution system. This is a choke point of growing power and, IMO, danger.

      But while I consider Apple’s actions to be obnoxious and a terrible precedent — and absolutely contrary to its history of providing a platform (the Mac) where anyone was free to write and provide applications and content to anyone who wanted to buy them — my main beef is with the news organizations that join this system. They, more than Apple, are betraying the principles that matter here.

      By the way, would you consider it OK if your Internet provider decided that its pipes were inappropriate for legal content it didn’t approve of? Based on your question, i fear you would.

      1. Yes. If my ISP didn’t want to allow some content I would say it was OK or I would find another ISP. Just as if terrestrial radio station decided rock music might lead to dancing. Or if some company iced not to offer a floppy drive with their refrigerator.

        1. You really believe it’s ok for an ISP to block what you can get? Amazing. Enjoy your life in Disneyworld…

          1. No that’s clearly the opposite of what I said. If a business does something I dislike, and alternatives are available, both parties are free to sever the relationship.

            Editors keep all sorts of stories from readers for various reasons. They even make decisions on what stories to cover. Why not get up in arms with them as well?

            If, for example you don’t like a paper’s editorial policy you buy a different paper. The consumer has the power in most instances especially with information.

            1. When there are at most 1 or 2 ISPs, your belief that you have choice is hardly more than wishful thinking. We’re talking here about markets that are increasingly concentrated with one or two or at most a few providers. They are not like a newspaper that has (if the ISPs allow it) countless competitors.

    2. It makes sense that any store -online or off- has every right to sell whatever they are legally able to do.

      An ISP is not a store. ISPs are presently regulated as ‘Information Services’ … this has become incorrect. ISPs do not provide ‘Information Services’ beyond authenticating their users. Once authenticated, ISPs provide their Users a connection to ‘Information Services’ … they provide ACCESS to News, Stores, phone calls, banking services, on ad absurdum … Not the services themselves.

      ISPs have evolved to become ‘Common Carriers’ of bits.

  2. Wow, Dan, you really believe in freedom of everything, good luck.

    Btw can you stop an ISP from blocking anything?

    1. This is entirely what the network neutrality debate is about. We’re down to roughly two serious ISPs, if that many, in any given community. You want them to be able to pick and choose what you can read, watch and listen to?

  3. I have yet to see any content from any news source on any device that couldn’t be rendered by HTML5. It doesn’t make any sense to not develop your content for browser based consumption. Apple has no say in what you do, and the same content is available on any other HTML5 platform wether it’s a phone, tablet, netbook, laptop, desktop or DVD player.

    1. Apple doesn’t let HTML 5 use the hardware of the iPad the same way native apps can do. It’s not necessarily the same content.

  4. I think we are way too early in this new paradigm to to freak out because Apple reserves the right to end apps on its system. A logical conclusion is a series of devices able to access multiple news services either via specialized apps or via a web browser. Obviously, news media hopes to make money on online sales as they transition from print. Whether they will have to suffer under the anemic revenue system based on ads or they can transition to the app model and subscriptions is yet to be seen. A series of devices mean that Apple’s influence will be muted. Regardless, it is up to individual companies to develop their revenue streams/options, not Apple. Apple is providing a means to an end. In addition, the supposition that Apple will willy-nilly pull an app seems a bit over-reaching. The apps that they have pulled have typically been for very specific reasons or internal goofs despite the overreaction to such actions from a number of places.

    This issue of net neutrality doesn’t apply here either. Apple is a distributor of content and not a network provider.

    I find it disconcerting that journalism is given some sort of “higher than” status in this article. The importance of a a free press able to inform and educate the public is of great importance, but the press is not above other businesses in this day and age. If it feels it should have special status, it should develop its own systems similar to what Apple is trying to do. Barring that expense, diversifying their offerings through a variety of content distributors makes sense.

    1. 1. Apple is, in fact, moving to become both the platform and the pipe with the iPad.

      2. I am not putting journalism “higher than” anything. If other kinds of providers of content/info/etc. want to bow to Apple’s Disneyland rules, that’s their affair. But for journalists to do it is particularly odious, as it violates fundamental principles.

      1. You’ve heard of Safari for iPad? Oh look HTML! An iPad app is just a more convenient form of webpage that takes better advantage of the hardware and sensors.

        When the iPhone first appeared, Apple offered webkit-based developer tools. But developers wanted native apps. So an SDK was developed. Alongside came the app store. Then came parental controls. Then came liability for potential libel and defamation. Then came corporate policy and the employees to judge it. Now come reflexive backtracking by management when controversy erupts.

        Blame the lawyers.

        1. No, I’ll blame Apple for having installed the policy in the first place, which ran counter to their longstanding relationship with developers on the Mac. Moreover, Apple requires app developers to indemnify against absolutely every possible legal claim; the lawyers had that covered ages ago.

        2. By the way, an iPad native app gets to use the hardware in ways that developers aren’t allowed — there we go, permission to create again — with HTML services. It doesn’t just take better advantage of the hardware; it takes advantage of things HTML is barred from doing.

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