Jason D. O’Grady’s post regarding Apple’s frustrating PR practices kept popping up in my inbox today:
Then I got an idea. Since Apple PR never responds to my voicemails or emails, maybe they’d respond to the guys that do have access. So I contacted several prominent Apple pundits (who shall remain nameless) that are known for their access to Apple (some of whom get replies from Apple “every time”) and I asked them to enquire about Apple’s stance on enforcing its policy on address book uploads.
And you know what? None of them would do it.
Why? They’d probably say that Apple wouldn’t comment. But someone’s got to ask if they expect Apple to reply. I mean come on! Apple’s not going to press release its shady developers that steal your contacts.
The fact of the matter is that most journos with access to Apple are afraid of losing it. They’re afraid of asking the tough questions. They’re afraid of getting blacklisted. Like me.
The post is right on one thing: Apple is a pain in the ass to get a hold of, and almost impossible to get a substantive comment out of. A bit paranoid? Possessive? Absolutely. But saying Apple has a blacklist is far from my experience: Dozens of reporters I know have tried over the years to get a comment about this or that, and almost invariably fail, whether or not their Apple coverage is positive, negative or (usually) a bit of both. Instead, Apple has a whitelist: Those reporters it chooses to give access to, while blocking off the rest of the world. It’s not retribution for aggressive reporting. It’s that the universe of people Apple cares about in media is very, very small (though probably expanding if it’s doing one-on-ones as standard practice now).
He’s also off in suggesting that those reporters who do are on Apple’s whitelist are lapdogs or fanboys, afraid of losing access. Walt Mossberg, the Wall Street Journal‘s venerable personal technology columnist, is often singled out as an Apple PR favorite, but he feels free to criticize Apple. As have almost all the other journalists that Apple grants access to (I’d love to hear counterexamples; leave them in the comments or e-mail me below), and O’Grady does those journalists a disservice by implying otherwise.
Why does it matter? One media wag called Apple’s alleged blacklist “Nixonian,” and a blacklist is Nixonian. And there actually are companies that do blacklist reporters: I was told I was blacklisted by a tech company briefly (I’m not sure if it was true or they were just not returning my e-mails), but the trend I’ve noticed is that, just like Nixon, these companies tend to be circling in a downward spiral. A whitelist you’re not on is obnoxious, especially if you’re trying to get that one good gotcha quote to get on the front page of Reddit, but it comes from a position of power and planning on the company’s part, not paranoia and vindictiveness.
Of course, O’Grady’s views are likely influenced by an anecdote he leaves out of the story: That Apple tried to sue to get access to his sources in 2005. Over a leak about a Firewire peripheral. That kind of maneuvering is thuggish (the company subpoenaed his ISP for his e-mails with sources), frightening and the very definition of Nixonian. It’s a textbook example of “Bad Apple,” the arrogant, potentially abusive company that crosses the line. It was also 7 years ago, and a completely different ballgame then not returning e-mails.
While I don’t think either blacklisting or whitelisting is a particularly good strategy as a general rule, it’s Apple’s right to do and it has worked well for them so far. Nobody owes a reporter anything, which makes the job so fun and frustrating. Apple’s been doing great with a tight-lipped media message over the years, but as the market place gets more confusing and crowded, I would guess it will start responding to more nuanced questions from more reporters, particular in regards to how the iPad will coopt and coexist with competitors and its own traditional offerings in complex markets like education and business.
But right now, just because you’re not high enough on its radar to merit a callback doesn’t mean Apple is Nixon; it might just mean you’ve got to act a bit more like Woodward.
Update: Speaking of Woodward, the Washington Post notes, with some on-the-record disgruntlement, that the New York Times did not get early access to Mountain Lion, or any access to Apple executives in the Wake of the Times series on Apple’s supply chain labor abuses. It’s pettiness on Apple’s part. It’s the company’s not to comment, but doing so lets other parties continue to tell more of the story.