In a well-researched and wonderfully written story on the role of the media in the making of Apple and its CEO Steve Jobs,Paul Farhi of the Washington Post suggests that it was the media over the years that ultimately put Jobs into the center of his own creation at Apple.
Farhi suggests that the technology reporters over the years were, in many cases, the primary vehicle through which Jobs and Applebecame the household names they are today. He asserts it was reporters and technology writers who were the original fanboys and fangirls, and that adulation of all things Jobs may have played a major role in making Apple and its products image of beingbetter than the rest and just plain cool.
Farhi may well be right. Initially, of course, those of us who write about technology liked Apple because the company was doing things that made news. While they may have used a similar processor to other computers of the time, Apple seemed tomake things work better, so they were more fun to write about. They had color and, eventually, they had sound that was more than just beeps. They had cool software. When we looked at Apple there was always a story.
Perhaps equally important, in the early days Steve Jobs was reasonably accessible. If he thought you were going to give him and Apple a good story he’d happily talk to you about all sorts of things. And, of course, we’d all go write about what he said would happen. Contrast this with the other powerhouses of the day, and Jobs was a breath of fresh air. Getting an interview out of IBM meant either talking to a midlevel engineer with no access to future direction or getting blown off by the senior level executives.
Bill Gates at Microsoft was also highly accessible until the later years, when he had become a gazillionaire and wasn’t really running Microsoft anyway. Today’s leaders of Microsoft don’t talk to the press directly and rarely answer questions at press conferences. Perhaps this explains why Microsoft isn’t a darling to the media-it’s hard to talk to them, especially these days
But Jobs was accessible, at least to journalists he liked. Walt Mossberg of The Wall Street Journal would get called at home by Jobs to be told about whatever was new. Mossberg, in turn, would write rich, detailed pieces about Apple and Jobs. While few were as favored as Mossberg, many in the media were smiled upon by the Great Man, and got their stories. They appreciated his attention, and that helped to build his reputation. It sometimes got to be a contest.
During the late ’90s and early 2000s, it was very common to sit in a story meeting and hear one story pitch after another in which one reporter or another wanted to write something about Apple.
Jobs Had Plenty of Help Creating Apple Products, Image
Some of those stories were based on the flimsiest of news hooks-some new feature, some new color, some new rumor-and the reporter involved insisted that his story was at least as important as that new 64-bit chip from Intel or AMD that was so fast it appeared to be breaking the laws of physics. Sometimes that reporter got his way.
Why did this happen? Apple fed the media’s need for readers (and later page views). Apple needed the media to stay in the public’s mind. A new color on the iPod Nano kept Apple in the news. A story or, better yet, a glowing review about Apple’s new server gave Apple the mindshare it needed to be taken seriously in the enterprise as well as at home. And the server review would be glowing, regardless of how well it actually performed in the data center. The reviewers loved the fact that the PR lady at Apple had blessed them with actual hardware that they didn’t want to do anything to jeopardize their chances of getting more Apple gear to review.
Throughout the latter years of Apple, Jobs provided the Kool-Aid that many reporters eagerly drank. Everything was innovative; everything was visionary.
Of course, not all of us drank the Kool Aid. There were some of us who saw Jobs and Apple closer to what they really were. We saw Apple as a company that made well-designed, well-thought-out products, and Jobs as a visionary who sometimes took several tries to get it right.
There is no question that Jobs had a brain trust that was as innovative as any in the computer business. Some of his leaps of imagination really did revolutionize their respective industries, and sometimes they effectively created industries where none had previously existed, as happened with the iPod and iPad.
But despite great design, and despite insanely great product placement deals in the movies and in television, Apple wasn’t successful in everything. Apple servers eventually vanished from the market. After all, they weren’t consumer electronics, and it’s hard to be a great design when it only runs in the dark.
The Macintosh was a similar story, although many people from the start loved its innovative design and its graphical interface. But for years the Mac lived so far under the shadow of Intel and Windows that it had single-digit market share. It’s doing better now, but I suspect that’s because it finally caved into the Intel architecture and the need to run Windows.
So was Steve Jobs really the innovator and visionary everyone says he was? Of course he was. No matter how you look at it, although he obviously had a lot of help, he did cause those insanely great products to come about.
However, no visionary can stand alone. Someone has to help share that vision, and in this instance, it was us. The media. Without the media, no one would have noticed Apple or Jobs. But without Steve Jobs, we in the media wouldn’t have had one of the great continuing technology stories of the personal computer era to write about.