Apple 2.0

Covering the business that Steve Jobs built

The press turns sour on Apple

April 16, 2010: 7:21 AM ET

Journalism organizations discover -- belatedly -- that Steve Jobs is a control freak

Cartoon: Mark Fiore

"It's time for the press to push back at Apple," reads the headline of Ryan Chittum's clarion call in Thursday's Columbia Journalism Review.

"Apple Wants to Own You," warns Slate's media critic Jack Shafer. "Welcome to our velvet prison, say the boys and girls from Cupertino."

"What's insane," Shafer continues, riffing on Apple's (AAPL) old "insanely great" marketing gimmick, "is the perimeter mines, tank traps, revetments, and glacis [Steve Jobs has] deployed around these shiny devices to slow software developers to a crawl so he can funnel them through his rapacious toll booth and collect a sweet vig before he'll let their programs run on your new iDevice."

What's got these writers' knickers in a twist is the news -- first reported by Laura McGann at the Nieman Journalism Lab -- that Apple had rejected an iPhone app submitted by Mark Fiore, who won a Pulitzer Prize Monday for his online political cartoons. (For samples of his work, see here.)

Fiore is not the first cartoonist to run afoul of the App Store approval process for, in Apple's words, "ridiculing public figures." The issue was first raised in November when Apple initially rejected an app illustrated by Tom Richmond, a veteran Mad Magazine cartoonist. (See Apple bans Nancy Pelosi bobble head.)

But that was before the press decided that the iPad and the iTunes Store might be the solution to the cultural and technological changes that are slowly strangling it.

Now some of the same news outlets that gave the iPad rave reviews are combing the tech press for examples of other ways in which Apple tries to control what happens on its platforms.

Not surprisingly, they've found plenty to write about. Nearly every writer on this story is quoting Boing Boing co-editor Cory Doctorow's Why I won't buy an iPad (and think you shouldn't, either), in which he accuses Apple of trying to turn the World Wide Web into Wal-Mart.

What they don't quote is what Doctorow said about them:

I think that the press has been all over the iPad because Apple puts on a good show, and because everyone in journalism-land is looking for a daddy figure who'll promise them that their audience will go back to paying for their stuff. The reason people have stopped paying for a lot of "content" isn't just that they can get it for free, though: it's that they can get lots of competing stuff for free, too. The open platform has allowed for an explosion of new material, some of it rough-hewn, some of it slick as the pros, most of it targetted more narrowly than the old media ever managed. Rupert Murdoch can rattle his saber all he likes about taking his content out of Google, but I say do it, Rupert. We'll miss your fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a percent of the Web so little that we'll hardly notice it, and we'll have no trouble finding material to fill the void."

So what do the press critics suggest the Fourth Estate do about the heavy hand of Steve Jobs?

The Columbia Journalism Review's Chittum is calling for bold action now, "while the press," as he puts it, "has leverage over Apple."

His solution: "Unless Apple explicitly gives the press complete control over its ability to publish what it sees fit, the news media needs to yank its apps in protest."

UPDATE: According to a Wall Street Journal Blog, a representative from Apple called Fiore Thursday and suggested he resubmit his app. "I feel kind of guilty," Fiore told the Journal's Jennifer Valentino-DeVries. "I'm getting preferential treatment because I got the Pulitzer."

UPDATE 2: According to the New York Times, Steve Jobs himself has weighed in on the Fiore flap. In response to a customer's complaint, Jobs wrote "This was a mistake that's being fixed."

See also:

[Follow Philip Elmer-DeWitt on Twitter @philiped]

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About This Author
Philip Elmer-Dewitt
Philip Elmer-DeWitt
Editor, Apple 2.0, Fortune

Philip Elmer-DeWitt has been following Apple since 1982, first for Time Magazine, and now on the Web for Fortune.com.

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