How Steve Jobs changed (but didn’t save) journalism

October 5, 2011
Category: Uncategorized

Editor’s note: With news of Steve Jobs’ passing on Oct. 5, we thought it was appropriate to republish this story, written when he resigned as CEO of Apple.

Steve Jobs resigned Wednesday as CEO of Apple Inc., but his legacy will be felt in the news industry for years to come.

Steve Jobs cared about, and greatly changed, the news business.

In the past five years, Jobs’ Apple has simultaneously disrupted, transformed and aided the news industry.

It created or at least defined almost every aspect of mobile consumer technology that is now part of media’s future and its fastest-growing segment. The iPhone and iPad created inescapable trends. They were not just devices but whole new product categories and new content economies.

The iPhone was not the first smartphone. But it was the first to employ a full-face touchscreen, to decide finger taps and swipes were better than buttons, and to unleash the enormous power of third-party apps. Its largest competitors — Android and BlackBerry — have largely followed Apple’s lead in their devices and software.

The iPad was in some ways less new; it borrowed the same operating system and app environment from the iPhone. But in other ways it was entirely different — a whole new category of product between phones and laptops.

The iPad has proven to be an ideal device for long reading sessions, often at home during leisure time. As such, it is competing with print products that had served that purpose, while also offering new long-term hope of a digital transition for publishers.

Most media companies have had to bend to the market created by Apple, as 88 percent of national U.S. newspapers have an iPhone app, and most that don’t already have an iPad app are probably planning on one.

Jobs not only influenced news publishing indirectly, he also worked with publishers directly. With the debut of the iPad in 2010, Jobs personally met with executives from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Time magazine, and perhaps others.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs presents the iPad at the Moscone Center in San Francisco, Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2010. (Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP)

Jobs featured The New York Times in his keynote speech debuting the iPad, but was later critical of its first app, which featured a limited “editor’s choice” of stories. Jobs planned to join Rupert Murdoch on stage for the launch of The Daily this year, but illness prevented that. He did attend an earlier News Corp. corporate retreat to discuss media-built iPad apps and called the Wall Street Journal’s iPad app slow and clunky.

The criticism may have hurt some feelings, but it also showed how much Jobs cared. Here was the CEO of Apple, not a vice president or media liaison, meeting personally with news industry leaders and urging them to create the best possible experience for this new device.

If you take him at his word, Jobs cares hugely about preserving journalism for journalism’s sake.

“Anything that we can do to help The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal find new ways of expression so they can afford to get paid, so they can afford to keep their editorial operations intact, I’m all for it,” he said at a 2010 conference.

A source told The New York Times ahead of the iPad launch that Jobs “believes democracy is hinged on a free press and that depends on there being a professional press.”

In return, much of the mainstream press took an optimistic liking to Jobs. Fortune Managing Editor Andy Serwer once called Jobs a “once-in-a-century” innovator comparable to Thomas Edison. Jobs noted in one of his own keynotes an admiring quote from Murdoch: “Here we have the man who invented the personal computer, then the laptop. He’s now destroying them. That is an amazing life.”

For as many products as Jobs helped invent at Apple, he had even more quotable public statements about innovation. A few stick out today as relevant to what people in news organizations are going through.

This, from Fortune Magazine in 1998:

“Innovation has nothing to do with how many R&D dollars you have. When Apple came up with the Mac, IBM was spending at least 100 times more on R&D. It’s not about money. It’s about the people you have, how you’re led, and how much you get it.”

On the same theme, Jobs said this to BusinessWeek in 2004:

“Innovation comes from people meeting up in the hallways or calling each other at 10:30 at night with a new idea, or because they realized something that shoots holes in how we’ve been thinking about a problem. It’s ad hoc meetings of six people called by someone who thinks he has figured out the coolest new thing ever and who wants to know what other people think of his idea.

“And it comes from saying no to 1,000 things to make sure we don’t get on the wrong track or try to do too much. We’re always thinking about new markets we could enter, but it’s only by saying no that you can concentrate on the things that are really important.”

And in 1999, as Apple was still trying to recover from its struggles of the 1990s, Jobs said something about the way forward that applies today for newspapers and other legacy media companies.

“The cure for Apple is not cost-cutting. The cure for Apple is to innovate its way out of its current predicament.”


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