Thursday, May 2, 2013

Morning Briefs: Fortune's Apple reporter doesn't understand the game; the NYT proves an easy target

Fortune's tech reporter, Philip Elmer-DeWitt, takes The New York Times to task this morning for what he describes as "slipping back into a lazy editorial stance that it rode last year all the way to a Pulitzer Prize." Clearly Mr. Elmer-Dewit is not happy with the way the NYT wins its awards.

The article in question, from today's paper, reports on the increasing thefts of cell phones, and while Apple does a better job of offering an anti-theft mechanism in its "Find My iPhone" app, Apple, nonetheless, is the center of the article's claim that the industry is not doing anything to stem the rising tide of thefts. But would you read an article centering on Nokia or HTC? No. If you want to grab the attention of the awards crowd you better talk about Apple, or so Elmer-Dewit seems to be saying.

But the Fortune writer doesn't seem to understand his own profession. Journalists are obsessed with awards, the red carpet, and recognition. Only the acting profession is as self-obsessed as modern journalism. The media trade press feeds this self-obsession with endless award dinners where editors pay money to be entered into contests judged other journalists. There is even a publishing Hall of Fame,  for crying out loud (are their busts of the journalists inducted?).

The New York Times just happens to be good at the game. Maybe someone needs to invite Fortune's columnist to a dinner, shine a light on him, hand him a certificate. Then maybe he'll understand what drives some reporters and editors.

Of course, the NYT needs to understand that sequels – the NYT rode Apple to a Pulitzer Prize for a story last year – rarely win. It's time to pick on another tech company. An expose on Apple is so last year's Twilight. The academy is more hip than that.

Fortune's Apple editor wasn't the only ones to take the NYT to task in the past 24 hours. Matt Tabbi went after Tom Friedman for writing a typically Friedman column, while the Boston Herald went after the NYT via the shareholder's meeting (seems a few shareholders are not happy with execs making big bucks while the NYT's stock price is hovering near rock bottom).

I suppose it is fair to say that the NYT remains the Apple of its industry despite its plummeting revenue and profits – it's an easy target.

But the NYT is also the shining star of the paid content crowd. It's paywall is held up as a model for the rest of the industry, despite the fact that paid digital circulation can not possibly compensate for the loss of advertising revenue. The dream of an ad-free future for journalism remains the fantasy future for writers who probably grew up hating their ad-side colleagues.

But the NYT is, I'm afraid, the Titantic of the newspaper industry. The 'digital first' folks are dressed in their finest buying one last drink for their 'paid content' friends – meanwhile, the string quartet is trying desperately to play loud enough to drown out the sounds of everyone else jumping off the rails to avoid going down with the ship.

Maybe there is still time for one last awards ceremony before it's all over.