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Aug. 31, 2012, 10:48 a.m.

This Week in Review: Apple’s win and mobile’s future, and fresh ways to cover the conventions

Plus: President Obama’s stop at Reddit, questions about bias and boundaries at The New York Times, and the rest of the week’s media and tech news.

Apple’s big patent win: A U.S. grand jury returned a patent verdict in Apple’s favor last Friday that could have significant implications for mobile media production and consumption. The jury ordered Samsung to pay Apple more than $1 billion for violating Apple’s patents for smartphone design, a ruling that could cause several phone makers to tweak or scrap their smartphone designs, which, as The New York Times noted, are largely based on Apple’s concepts.

Apple followed the ruling up by asking the U.S. government to ban eight Samsung phones, including several of its signature Galaxy line, from the country. Its CEO, Tim Cook, called the ruling a win for innovators, while Samsung called it a loss for consumers and asserted that they’re the ones innovating, while Apple is trying to maintain its market dominance through litigation.

As for the big picture of what this ruling means, The Atlantic’s Alexis Madrigal’s quick roundup of a variety of perspectives is the place to start. The Guardian’s Dan Gillmor was discouraged by what the ruling will do to competition in the smartphone market, giving over more of the industry over to Apple’s draconian policies: “Even more than Microsoft during that company’s most ruthless days in the 1990s, Apple wants control over how we use technology.” And Forbes’ Haydn Shaughnessy and GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram both lamented the ruthlessness with which patents are being applied to technology design, stifling innovation across the field.

On the other hand, as The New York Times reported, this decision could be the “kick in the pants” that cellphone manufacturers need to create more innovative design, rather than just modeling after Apple. For consumers, this could mean fewer phones and a slower turnaround time between models, as the San Jose Mercury News reported.

The two third parties most affected by the decision seem to be Microsoft and Google. The conventional wisdom, as CNET’s Jessica Dolcourt and Roger Cheng and ReadWriteWeb’s Mark Hachman explained, is that manufacturers who have been making phones on Google’s Android platform (the primary competitor to Apple’s iOS) will flee to Microsoft’s fledgling Windows Phone, which is free from Apple patent conflict — though Hachman pointed out that Windows Phone still has to attract a critical mass of users, too.

As for Google, Kara Swisher of All Things D said they have to be fearing for their mobile lives right now, while Charles Arthur of The Guardian argued that the Samsung case is something of a proxy war between Apple and Google. Arthur contended that Android will still have the upper hand overseas, but Google can only hope for a quick, clean settlement with Apple to salvage its U.S. share. Brian Proffitt of ReadWriteWeb, on the other hand, said this decision could be a blessing in disguise for Google if it entices phone developers to stick closer to the Android platform.

How should the conventions be covered?: The Republican National Convention may not have even been the biggest U.S. story of the week (that’d be Hurricane Isaac), but it generated a great deal of discussion about the role of the political press in an increasingly hostile political climate. About 15,000 journalists were expected to descend on Tampa to cover the event, at the same time that many political observers were wondering whether party conventions are even necessary at all.

That sentiment extended, of course, to the media’s coverage of the conventions. The Huffington Post’s Howard Fineman said the conventions are an example of one doomed institution (the traditional news media) tripping all over itself to cover another one, and CUNY’s Jeff Jarvis called the convention saturation coverage a waste of money that only serves editorial ego, rather than readers. The New York Times’ David Carr went the next step further and said that since the conventions are just a tightly scripted, faux-reality event, journalists might want to take cues from reality TV producers about how to approach them.

But Reuters’ Jack Shafer said covering conventions could pay practical dividends for reporters in the form of glimpses at future presidential candidates and connections with grassroots-level party organizers, and Northeastern University’s Dan Kennedy told reporters to keep their coverage fresh by getting out of the convention hall and looking for stories.

CNN faced a particular conundrum in its convention coverage when two attendees hurled nuts and racial taunts at a black CNN camerawoman (they were subsequently kicked out of the convention). The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple said CNN should err on the side of covering the story in detail, while Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo said CNN’s commitment to appearing neutral placed it in an awkward spot in this instance.

The conventions also continued to spur the ongoing discussion on fact-checking and the proper approach to political falsehoods. The Romney campaign defended running a factually inaccurate ad by saying it wouldn’t let itself “be dictated by fact-checkers.” Several convention speeches, especially vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan’s, contained glaring inaccuracies, which were rather uncharacteristically pointed out by mainstream media outlets. The Atlantic’s James Fallows and Poynter’s Andrew Beaujon wondered if we’re starting to see journalists adjust to a post-truth political world, and NYU’s Jay Rosen noted that this does seem to be a real shift for the political press.

Still, The New Republic’s Alec MacGillis found that many at the convention seemed uninterested in errors of fact and suggested those issues are seen as simply the domain of the old-school media. The Columbia Journalism Review’s Brendan Nyhan urged news orgs to go further than fact-checking in their anti-falsehood efforts, and Mathew Ingram of GigaOM said they need to do this all the time. Media consultant Dan Conover said fact-checking will always fail if it’s done from the viewlessness of journalistic objectivity. “Just as surveyors must establish a reference point before they begin measuring property lines, so too must journalists find and announce a meaningful perspective before they attempt to measure truth,” he said.

Reddit as political forum: President Barack Obama made a surprise appearance on an “Ask Me Anything” thread on the social-news site Reddit, answering 10 questions submitted by Reddit users and making a minor bit of news in the process. Poynter’s Andrew Beaujon summarized the story and initial reactions well.

Some observers saw it as a symbolically important moment in Internet politics. All Things D’s Eric Johnson said the Reddit appearance will be a boost to Obama regardless of what he said (or didn’t say) because the web has become that political town hall it was predicted to be in the ’90s. O’Reilly Media’s Alex Howard said it raised intriguing possibilities for allowing citizens to interact with powerful figures with the support of digital communities, and GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram compared it favorably to presidential press conferences.

On the other side, The Atlantic’s Alexis Madrigal said Reddit just puts a tech-savvy gloss on the same packaged elision we’re used to seeing from politicians: “In the 10 answers Obama gave, there was not a single one that’d be interesting to Redditors if it had appeared somewhere else,” he wrote, concluding, “Tech is not the answer to the problems of modern politics.” Slate identified 10 intriguing Redditors’ questions Obama left unanswered, and The Verge’s Adrianne Jeffries pointed out that Reddit is quite a friendly audience for Obama. Meanwhile, Jeff Sonderman of Poynter provided journalists with a guide to using Reddit.

Bias and boundaries at the Times: Buffalo News editor Margaret Sullivan is preparing to take over as public editor for The New York Times, but outgoing public editor Arthur Brisbane made one last round of headlines with his goodbye column, in which he urged the Times to be more transparent and dinged the paper for its “political and cultural progressivism” which bleeds through on certain topics. Jay Rosen pointed out a couple of oddities in Brisbane’s observation — that he didn’t acknowledge that former public editor Daniel Okrent has famously made this criticism already, and that he also called for greater transparency, which Rosen said seemed at odds with the criticism for bias.

Erik Wemple of the Washington Post questioned Brisbane’s assertion that Occupy Wall Street was one of those issues that the Times treated as a cause. Times executive editor Jill Abramson also objected to Brisbane’s statement, and Andrew Beaujon of Poynter brought up the fact, often overlooked in the bias wars, that the Times “does metric tons of reporting every day.”

Brisbane had one last snafu to weigh in on when Judicial Watch reported (via Politico) that a Times reporter forwarded an advance copy of a Maureen Dowd column to a CIA spokeswoman. Brisbane condemned the move as a breach of reporter-source and news-editorial boundaries, but others saw something deeper and more ominous at work: At The Guardian, Glenn Greenwald called it a symptom of collusion between the Times and the CIA, and Dan Gillmor saw it as evidence that the Times’ true bias is in favor of the powerful.

Ethics in a citizen-driven media world: Two people were killed in a shooting on a sidewalk near the Empire State Building last Friday, a very public location that left news orgs with difficult decisions about whether to run graphic images of the shooting. Poynter’s Jeff Sonderman put together a review of numerous news sites’ visual presentation of the story, and Mashable’s Lance Ulanoff explained why he chose not to run a graphic photo.

Most of the questions about how news orgs handled the incident centered on The New York Times, which ran a particularly arresting image of the shooting victim. A Times spokesperson told Jim Romenesko the Times found the picture newsworthy particularly because it “shows the result and impact of a public act of violence,” and Poynter’s Kenny Irby and Andrew Beaujon both approved of the image based on a similar rationale.

Bonnie Bernstein of On the Media talked to the observer who took the photo, who wasn’t a professional. Jeff Jarvis said we should expect to see more graphic material like this as we shift toward news content that’s provided by non-professionals. “I think we’ve become much too accustomed to mediated news, to a world sanitized for our protection,” he wrote.

Reading roundup: This week was a bit less busy than the last two, but there was still plenty to check out below the radar:

— A few Twitter notes: Twitter went a bit further in prioritizing its own user experience by removing the names of the apps from which tweets came from the tweets themselves. GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram and tech blogger Dave Winer both explored Twitter’s increasingly complex relationship with media organizations. Meanwhile, Twitter filed an appeal on behalf of an Occupy protester whose tweets were requested by the state of New York.

— Several months after announcing it would drop to non-daily delivery at its newspapers in New Orleans and Alabama, Newhouse announced similar changes at its papers in Syracuse, N.Y., and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Poynter has the details and the two papers’ circulation background. The American Journalism Review’s Lindsay Kalter examined how print cutbacks have gone at Newhouse’s paper in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

— After quite a bit of speculation, The New York Times Co. sold this week to Barry Diller’s IAC, which also owns Newsweek and The Daily Beast. Business Insider showed what kind of a drain About had been to the Times.

— Finally, three useful pieces on Twitter for journalists: Digital First’s Steve Buttry gave 10 arguments for Twitter’s usefulness to journalists (for the Twitter-phobe in your life), Amy Gahran of the Knight Digital Media Center gave some advice on curating Twitter content, and Poynter’s Mallary Tenore highlighted some of Twitter’s lessons for writing well in tight spaces.

Photo of Apple and Samsung connectors by Dave Schumaker and Republican National Convention by PBS Newshour used under a Creative Commons license.

POSTED     Aug. 31, 2012, 10:48 a.m.
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