Every Friday, Mark Coddington sums up the week’s top stories about the future of news.
Apple begins life after Jobs: This week in the media and tech world was defined by three men’s departures, all announced on Wednesday. By far the biggest was Steve Jobs’ resignation as CEO of Apple, 35 years after he founded the company. The decision was largely health-driven, as Jobs was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2004, underwent a liver transplant in 2009, and has been on medical leave since January. Jobs will continue to be Apple’s chairman, and as the Wall Street Journal reported, he’ll still be involved in product development.
The announcement has drawn a massive amount of commentary, and Techmeme is the best place to gorge yourself on it — or you can read Adam Penenberg’s mashup. Here’s a small selection of some of the most interesting stuff, starting with the reflections on Jobs’ legacy: All Things Digital’s Walt Mossberg put together a sharp little rundown of the ways Jobs has changed the computing, animation, music, and mobile media industries. (TV is next.) Tech blogger John Gruber marveled at the company Jobs has built, saying, “Jobs’s greatest creation isn’t any Apple product. It is Apple itself.”
Om Malik of GigaOM said Jobs taught us that building the future requires taking the long view, and tech guru Robert Scoble praised Jobs as a CEO who genuinely cared about his products, not just profits. If you’re looking for more on Jobs himself, Byliner highlighted seven definitive profiles of the man from the past 15 years.
Jobs’ successor is Tim Cook, an Alabaman who joined Apple in 1998 and has been the company’s chief operating officer since 2007. Cook has served as interim CEO twice, and he’s essentially been acting as CEO throughout Jobs’ medical leave this year. Reuters profiled Cook, and All Things Digital’s John Paczkowski said that while he’s not going to be the visionary leader that Jobs was, he’s the steady hand that Apple needs right now. The Atlantic’s Nicholas Jackson said that Cook has learned to emulate Jobs as well as anyone could and noted all of the successful launches he’s presided over. Wired’s Tim Carmody wrote the most thorough defense of Cook as Jobs’ successor, detailing his history with the company and his logistics innovations in particular.
The consensus on the Jobs-to-Cook transition seemed to be that Apple is losing a uniquely influential, irreplaceable CEO, but that the company is strong enough to stay well ahead of its competition anyway. Business Insider’s Matt Rosoff cataloged what Apple will lose with Jobs, and msnbc.com’s Wilson Rothman took stock of where Apple stands as Jobs leaving, suggesting that it might need to start working harder to fight for market share. Slate’s Farhad Manjoo argued that Jobs has set his company up perfectly to continue his success, and Reuters’ Felix Salmon predicted this transition will go down as a textbook example of a well-executed succession plan. Cook, for his part, assured Apple employees that the company’s not going to change.
Two media legends leave their posts: The other two men to depart were more squarely in the media world: Poynter’s pioneering media blogger Jim Romenesko and Slate media critic Jack Shafer. Romenesko, who’s been running the definitive blog for news on the journalism business since the late ’90s, will be semi-retiring in January, occasionally contributing reported media pieces to Poynter and doing some writing on a new personal site. The Huffington Post’s Michael Calderone broke the news, and Romenesko’s editor, Julie Moos, explained it from Poynter’s perspective, detailing their ongoing transition of Romenesko to a group blog.
Poynter’s Bill Mitchell told the story of Romenesko’s tenure at Poynter, and touched on some of the enormous influence he’s had: He chronicled one of the most important eras in journalism, helped aggregation be seen as a journalistic craft, and “brought transparency to newsrooms, equipping readers and staffers alike to hold those organizations accountable in the way that they scrutinize the operations of others.”
The American Journalism Review’s Rem Rieder also reflected on Romenesko’s impact, and others chimed in on Twitter: Rare Planet’s Patrick Thornton said he “showed journalists that good curation is journalism,” and the New York Times’ Brian Stelter (who founded TVNewser) and paidContent founder Rafat Ali said he inspired them to start their sites. And while Wired’s Tim Carmody called him “Twitter before Twitter,” Romenesko himself told the New York Times he found himself disoriented by the rise of social media, saying, “My role kind of vanished.”
Shafer was one of four laid off from Slate, where he had written about media since 1996, the year the site was founded. Just hours before the news came down, the American Journalism Review had posted a profile of Shafer, with several luminaries praising his fearlessness and his meticulous research and reporting.
The layoff spurred a lot of confusion and complaints on Twitter and elsewhere, led by AJR’s Rem Rieder, who called the decision “befuddling and disappointing.” Northeastern j-prof Dan Kennedy also questioned the move, calling Shafer a “dogged reporter in a field where too many media critics would prefer to sit back and pontificate” and praising his iconoclastic perspective in an environment dominated by lockstep liberals and conservatives.
Media critic Erik Wemple of the Washington Post said the layoffs weren’t so preposterous given the financial struggles of Slate’s owner, the Washington Post Co., but Forbes’ Jeff Bercovici wondered if Slate’s general-interest approach to the web still makes sense. Hamilton Nolan of Gawker used the occasion to opine on the decline of the media critic. Shafer, meanwhile, talked to Adweek about how he approached his job and what’s next for him.
What should online identity be?: As Google+ grows, it’s also drawing its share of detractors in the tech world, with various gripes about the new social network. Tech guru Robert Scoble, one of Google+’s heaviest users, also said it won’t be ready to go beyond the tech crowd until it finds a way to cut down on the noise. GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram echoed that thought and added a complaint about the difficulty of finding new users to connect with. Others are pushing back against that: The Huffington Post’s Craig Kannalley said Google+ has all the building blocks of a successful platform, and MySpace founder Tom Anderson said you’ll eventually be using it.
One of the primary complaints about Google+ since its launch has been its real-names policy, and Mathew Ingram continued to beat that drum this week, saying that Google lacks transparency about its motives, suggesting that Google allow any pseudonym users desire but also offer verified identities for users that request it.
Web editing veteran Derek Powazek defended Google, arguing that the notion that no one on the web uses their real name is dead: “Outside of a few legitimate edge cases and the occasional sci-fi fantasy, who we are online is simply who we are.” Even though there’s still a need for a space for anonymous speech online, he said, it’s not up to corporations like Google to provide it for us.
The discussion about real names also extended again into the area of comment sections this week, with Time’s Graeme McMillan arguing that Facebook comments make those sections more civil, and the Huffington Post’s Mandy Jenkins noting that Facebook comments don’t necessarily solve the anonymity problem. Echo’s Chris Saad said real names aren’t the real issue with comment sections for media companies, and an Ad Age survey found that most online readers don’t care about comments.
Integrating new media into journalism training: A note from across the pond: In a survey released this week, members of Britain’s National Council for the Training of Journalists cast an emphatic vote for traditional media skills over new media expertise when it comes to the group’s prestigious National Certification Examination. (The exam is used as a qualification for newsroom positions, and helps determine pay in some cases.)
Those results upset a number of British journalists who saw them as evidence of a technology-averse media establishment. The Guardian’s Martin Belam worried that today’s young journalists are being “encouraged to pay for qualifications that will equip them to work in a 90s newsroom, because the people designing the courses and the industry input they receive are all from people who cut their teeth in a 90s newsroom.” J-prof Andy Dickinson called the group’s desires journalism training for the common denominator, not the future.
Numerous other journalists — Wales Online’s Alison Gow, Reed Business Information’s Adam Tinworth, David Higgerson of Trinity Mirror, and American Kerry Northrup — made a similar point: It’s a fallacy, they said, to think of social media, multimedia and web proficiency as separate skills from the classic skills of reporting and storytelling — they’re just other platforms on which to apply those skills.
Reading roundup: Really, there was other stuff going on this week than important people leaving their jobs. Here’s a taste:
— A site called The Daily Dot launched this week with the goal of being “the web’s community newspaper.” So what does that mean? It’s trying to cover the web’s social networks, like Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, and YouTube with reporting like a small-town paper might do. Adweek, Mashable, and VentureBeat have features on it, and one of its founders, Nicholas White, gave some lessons from his experience.
— A few News Corp. notes: The (News Corp.-owned) Wall Street Journal looked at how the plans to tap the phone of a 13-year-old murder victim went awry at News of the World, the Daily Beast’s Brian Cathcart focused on the investigator at the center of that scandal, and the Los Angeles Times’ Joe Flint looked at News Corp.’s influence-peddling game here in the U.S.
— Two posts to leave you with: Maria Popova’s fantastic post here at the Lab on the new rarity in the information abundance of the web, and some more great advice for journalism students from the Online Journalism Review’s Robert Niles.