Apple appears to be retaliating against The New York Times for its excellent series of articles on Apple’s manufacturing practices.Those articles, which, among other things, explained why Apple has moved its manufacturing overseas and why no companies build high-tech gadgets in the U.S. anymore, increased the scrutiny of how Apple makes iPhones and iPads.
The articles also unearthed details that Apple presumably did not want emphasised—including how hard the people who make iPhones and iPads work and how little money they make, as well as how many Americans have been left jobless by the industry’s move overseas.
Apple has since responded to these stories and others by beefing up its monitoring of its supply chain and defending its decision to build products in China. And sophisticated New York Times readers at least now understand precisely why Apple builds products in China—and why it has no choice to but to do so. (This trend is not Apple’s fault, and it is not incumbent upon Apple to fix America’s problems.)
But instead of thanking The New York Times for focusing attention on this important issue, Apple is apparently retaliating against it. At least the New York Times thinks it is.
In the past week, Apple’s famously aggressive PR team gave the Wall Street Journal an exclusive interview with CEO Tim Cook—an interview that produced an important scoop about how Apple is effectively merging the app functionality of its iPhone and Mac operating systems.And what did The New York Times get?
Erik Wemple of The Washington Post spoke to a source at The New York Times who offered the paper’s theory for the snub:
“They are playing access journalism … I’ve heard it from people inside Apple: They said, ‘look, you guys are going to get less access based on the iEconomy series.'”
But also probably the truth.
This, of course, is exactly the way the traditional mainstream media game is played. If you want to be fed “scoops” and given “exclusive interviews,” you have to toe a company’s line. And no company plays this game harder and more effectively than Apple, which is so popular with readers that it can bless a no-name journalist or publication with star status overnight.
Based on our experience and others, Apple’s PR team does everything it can to hand out favours to journalists who write articles that it approves of and punish those who don’t. This attempted manipulation consists of a variety of standard carrot and stick techniques, most of which are used to some extent by other companies as well.
The carrots include invitations to Apple’s famous product launch events, flattery, and “exclusive” access to some of Apple’s executives. The sticks include launch-event snubs, guilt trips, and the silent treatment.
So it would certainly be no surprise to us if The New York Times is now serving some time in Apple’s penalty box.
* The NYT’s gadget guru, David Pogue, did get a sneak-preview review copy of Apple’s new operating system for a week, which is another favour Apple PR gives to approved journalists.* It would have been self-defeating for Apple PR to snub Pogue, who has his own following and who generally writes breathless reviews of Apple products. So Apple’s retaliation, in other words, appears to be cleverly subtle. Did we mention that Apple’s PR team is really good at this game?
*UPDATE: This post originally said that David Pogue, the NYT’s gadget reviewer, did not appear to have gotten the same access to Apple’s marketing team as other reviewers did. Pogue has now said that he did get the same access to Phil Schiller as Gruber and other reviewers. So the “penalty box” for the NYT, if any, appears to be confined to access to Tim Cook. (This, too, would be shrewd on Apple’s part.)