This blog post was published on March 4 2014. §
Confessions Of An Ex-Apple News Writer
I covered Apple news for two years, and man it was a good learning experience. You make mistakes, you have countless arguments with your senior editor, and there are times when you really feel like flipping out. But you learn. And towards the end of my tenure, I really felt like I’d become a better writer, and more importantly that I’d accepted that when dealing with more experienced people, you’re going to be wrong 95% of the time if you get into an argument. But then I realised something else, something altogether more worrying – I really didn’t like my job.
This wasn’t something sudden, or an overnight change of heart. This was something that had been building up gradually, but it was a feeling I didn’t acknowledge, and didn’t want to acknowledge, until much later. When I finally did realise the truth, I stopped. It was a difficult decision, but one that had to be taken. For my own good, the good of the site I was writing for and the people I was working with.
Probably thousands of people would have killed to have the job I had: writing for a decent sized Apple website, getting paid to do it, free gizmos to review, and the chance to get my name out. And I loved it for the first year. I went at it with enthusiasm, but at the same time making countless mistakes and frequently clashing with my senior editor over the tiniest, seemingly most pointless things. The second year flipped the script. I started to accept things, realise I was wrong most times about the arguments that took place, but the enthusiasm was gone (for one reason or another), and although I continued, I wasn’t enjoying it. It wasn’t ‘I want to write that post’, it was ‘I need to write that post’. I became interested in other things. It got so bad that at times I was picking topics based how short and easy they were going to be to write about, just to fulfill my daily quota of posts. We’re talking BuzzFeed-level trash.
So I quit just under a year ago now. And we’re getting to the point of this article. I’ve had the time to think about it, look back at what I did over the two years I was there, read other things – and it’s been so valuable and insightful to have that separation. My understanding of things now could never have happened if I never wrote for an Apple site, but it could also never have happened if I was still writing for one. I needed to take that step back. And I want to take this chance to explain some thoughts I have on Apple news, Apple news reporting and journalism as a whole.
I’m going to stop beating around the bush and say it straight up: out of all the different journalistic categories, be it sports, finance, business, or current affairs, Apple news has by far the lowest standard. I’m not going to mention any names, but as I browse through the plethora of Apple and tech news sites, I’m really saddened by what I see.
This isn’t really the attitude I had when writing for one of them, simply because I was producing exactly the same rubbish. That made it impossible for me to see it. And looking now at the posts I produced during the period where I thought I improved, it’s depressing. It was all the same. There had been no improvement whatsoever. It took me almost a year after I stopped to realise the problem, and understand that it is something that’s affecting the industry as a whole: laziness.
How easy is it to set up a website? The modern internet makes it so easy. Anyone can do it. The next thing everyone wants is quick page views, to match the speed with which you set up your site. Where are those views going to come from, whats going to be the easiest way to get them? The thought process at this point is cater to the majority. This means you’re targeting people Googling how to ‘make your Mac faster’, the ‘ five best Twitter apps’, and ‘how to change RAM in a Macbook’. You’re targeting fanboys, who want the latest leaks out of Shenzhen. You’re targeting the tl;dr folks, who want ‘amusing’ Apple photos from imgur and Reddit.
All those posts have on thing in common: they’re quick. I could get some posts done in under 10 minutes, especially when all you needed to do was insert a photo and hit ‘publish’. We are starting to see a common theme here. Who are quick and easy stories for? Lazy people. I was one of those people when I wrote about Apple. How hard is it to copy a ‘how to’ from another site, changing the wording only slightly, and giving a short ‘via’ link in parentheses at the end of the post? How hard is it to drag and drop a blurry image of the bezel from the supposed next iPhone, and accompany it with a block quote from weprovideunverifiedfalserumorsfortheapplesitestouseattheirleisureandgetawaywithit.cn?
Whatever the topic, the format is mostly the same. Three line intro (with link to original article), photo, direct block quote, and another few paragraphs paraphrasing the rest of the original article. The whole process is purely a recycling one. Someone gets a “good” story, every Apple site swarms like teenage girls to One Direction.
One day my senior editor took the time to phone up a number of Apple Stores to check stock of a product before a launch. He made a post out of it, and it was picked up by a number of big Apple news sites. How long does it take to make a few calls? Too long for most, it seems.
We can never get away from laziness. There is no such thing as inquisitive, old fashioned reporting in the Apple world. And I know still exists in other areas. I read a story on Grantland the other day that was eight months in the making. Eight months. Has there ever been an Apple-related article that’s been worked on for that long?
I’m personally embarassed by a lot of the posts I published. But the real problem is the Apple news industry as a whole and the attitude that runs through it. Quantity over quality, pageviews over insightful discussion, sensationalism over analysis. I don’t know if it’s fully possible to grasp if you work as an Apple writer. You read the same sites everyday, “report” stories from those sites, it’s a neverending spiral unless you take a step back.
Again, the keyword here is attitude, and it’s especially disappointing when you look at some of the bigger tech sites, who have the resources, contacts and funding to do better. But they don’t. They fill a quota of a certain number of posts a day, easily tweetable and shareable.
Before I continue I would like to clarify a few things. It might comes across like I think every single Apple site is like this, but that’s not entirely true. I know you can find some diamonds in the rough. Once in a while a normally crappy site might come out with something good and worthwhile. I haven’t mentioned any names up to this point, just because it’s easier, but I will single out The Loop as a site that consistently shares some very interesting articles, but also points out and mocks the abysmal ones. A nice dynamic, I think.
I also believe that there are some writers currently at what I’d consider typical Apple news sites who are better than their job, and that have what it takes to write something good. And that’s really rare. I’m pretty sure I don’t have the skill, the wit and the patience to churn out a really top notch article of the kind you frequently see on a site like Grantland.
The Apple news industry where stories need to be created, not just copied and rearranged. More than any other sector. At the moment, you might get two or three stories a day, which are covered by every single Apple news site. What should be happening is maybe twenty different stories, reports or analysis that are individually created and crafted by different sites every day.
I don’t want to be reading the same thing over and over again. Especially when the story that’s being spread is dead boring. I mentioned content selection earlier, but I’m going to come back to it in more detail. If Apple hires some exec in some admin departement you’ve never heard of, is it really news? If there’s yet another analyst’s report projecting something, saying Apple is going down, is it really news?
I think you’ve got three categories of topic here. First, the ones that deserve one full article dedicated to them, such as Apple product announcements/quarter reviews, big changes at board level and ultra huge news from other rival companies (CEO stepping down, company going bust, etc). Category two contains things that are noteworthy, but don’t deserve a whole post dedicated to them (leaks from TRUSTED SOURCES, rival product announcements, projections from GOOD analysts). Now, the aforementioned things should then be combined into one post, or report, to give a much more rounded presentation of the topic. Last and definitely least, we’ve got things that shouldn’t make it into any post (unverified leaks, private life stuff/celeb gossip [eg. OMG there's Kristen Stewart using an iPhone], BuzzFeed-style stuff). I only mentioned a few examples, and each category can be expanded, but hopefully you get the idea.
No article is ever going to be perfect. Every website, no matter how good it is, is always going to put out an absolute stinker of a story every once in a while. The problem in the Apple/tech news industry specifically though is the attitude with which is goes about things. And I don’t really know if that’s ever going to change, for a number of reasons:
- The type of people who read Apple news. A majority don’t want lots of text and analysis, they’re content with amusing photos, dodgy leaked parts and top 5 lists. Now there is clearly a minority who want the type of good content I’m talking about. But will it ever create enough demand? Unfortunately, probably not.
- Creating good content is a lot of work. I’ve said this a number of times already, but it’s true, like anything in the life. The more work you put in, the better the end product will be. You can’t rush off a post on something in half an hour. It will be rubbish. Ideally, you really need a few days or even a week to think about it, research, and edit. Most readers don’t like this (they always want more), and sites definitely don’t like this (from a business/advertising) point of view, it’s a terrible strategy.
- Expenses. Sometimes you need to travel to get that great story or report.
I’ll end by saying this: I’m a lot happier now than I was during my second year writing about Apple news. It’s tough to say, and difficult to acknowledge, but it’s true. I really can’t see myself going back into the Apple or tech news world unless it’s on a different schedule, with new enthusiasm and above all a different philosophy. That’s not just because I’ve lost a lot of interest in Apple, it’s mostly for the reasons I’ve mentioned throughout this article. This is a pretty rubbish conclusion, and I was hoping to fit a Steve Jobs quote in somewhere, but it hasn’t happened. So there.
You can contact me on Twitter, @henry_tg.