The Annals of Journalism

Transcribed segment of the MacNotables podcast #620, 28 February 2006, recorded one day before the Apple press event at which the iPod Hi-Fi and Intel-based Mac Minis were announced; Chuck Joiner is the host, and his guest is Bryan Chaffin, editor-in-chief of The Mac Observer:

Time: 2:00

Chuck Joiner: As we started the show, you corrected me a little bit because I referred to Think Secret as a rumor site, and you corrected me and told me that you do not view Think Secret as a rumor site.

Bryan Chaffin: I personally do not view Think Secret as a rumor site. I believe that they follow standard journalistic practices — that they double-source information. I think, as a matter of fact, they do, in terms of journalism, some of the best work in the Mac web.

Opening paragraphs of “New iPod — but Not Video — on Next Week’s Itinerary”, by Ryan Katz, published on Think Secret on 6 October 2005, one week before the introduction of the video iPod:

Since coming forward with information about Apple’s anticipated announcements next week, sources have clarified that while the October 12 event will not deliver a video iPod, Apple is expected to unveil a lesser update to the full-size iPod.

The new iPod will reportedly be available in capacities up to 80GB and will be slightly smaller than current color iPods, sources have said. It’s not known whether Apple will keep the player’s white casing or go with a silver version Think Secret sources spied in January.

Other than the fact that the new iPods are indeed thinner than the previous generation, this is entirely and utterly wrong: the new iPods did support video, did not have 80 GB of storage, and were not available in silver.

Not rumors. Journalism. Right.

Back to the MacNotables podcast, which continued:

Chaffin: Now from the standpoint of Apple, I understand why Apple is tense with Think Secret, at least on some levels I understand that. I don’t really think Think Secret hurts Apple’s business model. I think sites like Think Secret are a big part of why the mainstream pays at least some of the attention that the mainstream does pay to Apple, a level of attention which vastly exceeds Apple’s market share, that exceeds probably even Apple’s impact on the market. Apple gets attention for everything it does, and part of why that is the case, I think, is because of the stories saying different products are going to be coming out.

If by “different”, he means “fictional”, then this is correct, but I doubt that’s what he means, since it shouldn’t be hard for anyone to see how fictional upcoming product rumors are damaging to Apple.

Further ahead:

Time: 3:39

Chaffin: The Mac Observer does not publish articles about upcoming products from Apple. We know many things, at the same time or even sometimes even before the quote-unquote “rumor sites” report on them, and we don’t publish those kinds of stories. In part because we want to be able to have a relationship with Apple, and there are other sites that do that sort of thing well. And so we’ve chosen to take another path. But that doesn’t mean that what Think Secret is doing is not true journalism.

Where by “relationship with Apple”, I’m guessing Chaffin means “we want them to continue paying us for ads promoting WWDC, and the contract for those ads stipulates that we, along with all the other sites that run them, won’t publish stories about unreleased Apple products.” Perhaps.

Time: 8:20

Joiner: Even here on MacNotables we’ve tried to make a clear differentiation between what is rumor and what is honest to god speculation.

Chaffin: I love speculation. I love reading speculation. I actually don’t tend to read Think Secret or Apple Insider or any other sites that are lumped under the name of “rumor sites”, in part because, just to be honest, I know a lot of what they’re reporting on, as they’re reporting it or before they report it. But also in part because that doesn’t particularly interest me.

Oh, well then, perhaps that’s the “relationship with Apple” he hopes to maintain — the one that keeps him juiced in on the details of upcoming Apple product announcements.

A couple minutes later, Joiner and Chaffin begin speculating on what Apple might be announcing at the next day’s special press event. Should be like shooting fish in a barrel, what with all Chaffin knows before things even hit journalism sites like Think Secret.

Time: 20:30

Chaffin: Actually, I feel very strongly that one of the things Apple will be introducing is, in fact, the new iPods. And I think that it will be the true video iPod.

It would have been interesting to hear how the iPods that were released back in October — the ones that play video — are untrue. But, alas, no.

Chaffin: We [Mac Observer] published a story about some patents a few weeks ago, about gestures, touch-screen gesture patent technologies. Do you remember that?

Joiner: I remember it very well because I remember seeing the illustrations and reading the description and thinking, you know I don’t know which science fiction series I’ve seen that kind of technology allegedly as an interface in, but I know I’ve seen it imagined somewhere, and if they were to bring that out, that would be truly amazing.

Chaffin: Well, we reported it as further hints towards a Mac tablet. And to be blunt and honest, we were clearly wrong in that and it’s so clearly iPod-related. I should have recognized this at the time and I didn’t and I could smack myself for it — here, wait…

(Slapping sound, apparently Chaffin literally smacking himself.)

Chaffin: …there we go, I smacked myself. Umm, ha-ha. One of the images was of a virtual scroll wheel. it’s a guy operating a scroll wheel that’s only on the screen: LIKE AN IPOD! So I think it’s very clear that we’re going to have an iPod where the screen is the vast majority of the front of the unit and all the controls will be virtual. That’s just so obvious it’s not even funny.

Joiner: Well, we will know and probably shortly.

Chaffin: I’ll either look like an idiot or I’ll look brilliant to the folks who hear this after it’s already happened.