Editorial: Can journalists have feelings at Apple events?

in iPhone
It's a tough crowd at Apple Park. One of the first hot takes to fly off the grill of the New York Times after Apple's iPhone launch event this week demanded that the company stop doing product events entirely because they have become "exhausting love letters to consumerism." But is angry, embittered cynicism a more legitimate response to a product launch than any other emotional reaction?

Some reporters say Apple invited the media to an emotional rollercoaster of capitalist worship and emotional manipulation

Apple's non-event Event is just too much of an event

"The Last Apple Keynote (Let's Hope)," a Times opinion piece written by Charlie Warzel, took issue with Apple bringing developers on stage to show off their new Arcade titles-- pretty common fare for a tech event-- calling it "peculiar and out of touch." Why was an executive on stage narrating what was happening on screen in the new Frogger? Outrageous. Burn the place down. Never again.

Warzel actually wrote that it was "cognitive whiplash" for Apple to be introducing new front camera "slofies" on its new iPhone 11 when just recently there had been sensationalized reports whipped up by a competitor that a "major iPhone vulnerability targeted the Uighurs."

Actually it was the Chinese government targeting this ethnic group, not Apple -- and in fact, the state surveillance program affects all phones, not just Apple's, but why get bogged down in details when you're trying to make a point? No slofies! Just cut this innovation stuff out until the world is a utopia and we can relax a bit.

Apparently, there should be no keynotes and certainly no new iPhone camera features as long as any big government is unjustly targeting its minorities! Otherwise, how will we stay mad about Apple not caring about the Uighurs, apart from scrambling to fixing the issues that affected them long before anyone even knew about them?

I'm having cognitive whiplash just trying to keep up with this bizarre logic. I also have the sneaking suspicion that Warzel wasn't invited to Apple Park.

Was this Apple Arcade demo really "peculiar and out of touch"?

"When the world feels increasingly volatile and fragile, it feels a little obscene to gather to worship a $1,000 phone," Warzel stated. Except that nobody was worshiping a phone, and Apple was promoting its cheapest new mass-market model in three years. The tone of his entire piece seems to suggest that to be a real and honest journalist, you have to be upset and cynical and agree that technology is boring now that Apple is leading the mobile world, and that there's actually a "very fraught relationship most of us have with our phones."

Ever since Apple invented the modern smartphone, "we live with the effects -- the good and the very bad," Warzel concluded. Yes, remember before iPhones how everything was sunshine and roses with the Windows PCs we got to use? No existential crisis, no grief at seeing ads for a video game, and certainly no minorities were being persecuted. Now there's nothing we can do but shake our fists at Apple for just tilting things into the "very bad" world of misery that is a handheld device that works so well that we're pained to have to charge it up regularly, like an addict. It's miserable.

Warzel also took the time to promote a tweet by Wired senior writer Lauren Goode, which said the "Apple event today felt like a non-event," particularly because Apple was acting "eerily calm" even as American tariffs could impact its hardware.

Who else was expecting Apple to host a more dramatically "eventy" event by slinking on stage, apologetic and emotionally crushed at the prospect of its products possibly be further taxed during the ongoing trade war? Instead, we get all this talk about fancy cameras and new silicon and upcoming software titles. What kind of event ever does this? This is just a not-event, because tariffs.

Tim Cook talked about tech, not tarifs, which really diverged from the media narrative that Apple is doomed

Tears and applause

Warzel's piece was retweeted by Jack Nicas, his colleague who covers Silicon Valley for Times. Nicas lamented that "many" Apple bloggers act as fans, not journalists, specifically noting that "one" person in the Steve Jobs Theater stood up to applaud Tim Cook and another cried during an Apple Watch video featuring users whose lives had been changed or even saved by the device. Nicas called it "strange" that people covering Apple could have emotional reactions to any the company's announcements.

But it's not strange. Anyone who has observed any significant number of tech events knows this. Every tech company is trying to tap into the emotions of its audience. It's just that most aren't so good at it. Remember Microsoft's Steve Ballmer leading his audience in chanting "developers, developers, developers!" on stage to while pounding his fist and drenched in sweat? That was strange, but it didn't generate any major newspaper opinion pieces about how precarious the company's grasp of reality was.

Remember those heart-jerking product videos by Google -- one portraying a sailor teleconferencing with his family on a Google tablet from the bowels of ship that clearly wouldn't have a fast broadband connection; another showing off to great applause the incredible new feature of a camera app that uses Machine Learning to erase a chain-link fence to clearly portray the beautiful daughter playing baseball on the other side of it; and then a smart voice service that robocalls restaurants on your behalf to make reservations for you in an impressively realistic synthetic voice.

Who cares that none of that ever really shipped in a way that measured up to the emotions they stoked. Journalists certainly didn't, they just cheered and cried and then moved on.

And remember the excitement of Samsung and Huawei showing off a folding OLED screen that more than double the cost of an ultra-premium smartphone to enable it to turn into a feature-compromised Android tablet that no wants anyway? Tears and applause, then more tears when they fell apart at launch, then more applause as they were pulled from the market to sit in limbo all year. No tears for "worshiping a $2000 device" because well, this is different. This kind of event is a real event! And nobody is spying on Uighurs with a Galaxy Fold.

And, Warzel had to be told that most of the folks cheering were Apple employees. The rest of the folks were too busy typing and relaying information back to the teams that didn't get to go to the event.

Apple events take fun to tears

The only thing worse than excessive attempts to excite the audience is snoozer events from companies that think everything they can announce is exciting and deserves applause, when much of what they are showing doesn't. What makes Apple's Events novel is that they generally follow the style established by Steve Jobs decades ago in framing technical advancements as something worthy of being excited about. In a word: they're fun.

Sometimes they can feel like too much fun, such as when the front rows of special guests and employees cheer like its an Apple Store opening up or they're trying to wake up WWDC attendees marching in jetlagged from their flights to register. Some people don't like all this cheering--it can certainly get excessive--but also some people don't like waffles. Probably best just to accept it.

Apple's cheering is certainly no worse than Microsoft throwing its mock funerals or Google and all of its creepy Android robot dolls everywhere. Companies are sometimes just eccentric.

Deirdre Obrien sounds like she brought in the Apple Retail cheering section. Gives them a shout out to wild applause.

-- Daniel Eran Insider (@DanielEran)

More recently, Apple has been shining a spotlight on how its products empower users, often in ways that are genuinely emotionally moving. At this week's event, Tim Cook introduced the new Apple Watch Series 5 by showing off things existing Apple Watch models have already done for users. Real people who had heartbeat irregularities discovered before they turned fatal. An older man who fell but was rescued after his Watch called for help. A boy with autism who gained new focus running to fill in his rings.

These are real human stories. It's not a weakness to respond emotionally. And in large part, this is only new for Apple because it wasn't previously in the health care and medical research space before Apple Watch and HealthKit. iPod didn't save so many lives, but you can bet Jobs would have let people know about it if they had.

Nicas tweeted that the person next to him "cried during an Apple Watch ad." Sure enough, it was Ellen Cushing of The Atlantic. She tweeted in reply, "I was the crying reporter sitting next to Jack. I was crying because it's a video about people with disabilities overcoming challenges and also sometimes my face makes water whether I want it to or not??"

Steven Aquino, who writes for iMore and TechCrunch, added, "As a disabled person, and as a person whose parents were deaf, this video resonated with me so much." Many others responded similarly. In fact, who can watch such a spot and not be moved? I've never cried about Apple Watch itself (apart from the time I knocked my screen loose) but any video spot that involves somebody not dying-- or living better-- because of technology makes me automatically get choked up a bit. I'd really be a monster if it didn't.

When I fight off crying during an Apple keynote, it's not because I'm afraid of looking like an emotionally manipulated member of the media. It's only because it's hard to type when your eyes are all watery. If you're not feeling things, it doesn't mean you are a better journalist. It just indicates you may be an embittered writer without the compassion to really understand people and have empathy for the human condition enough to competently describe what's happening in the world around you.

To his credit, Nicas gave his original tweet some more consideration and added, "After just reading some replies and thinking on this more, I'll say my initial tweet was pretty crap. 1. I shouldn't generalize a whole group. 2. There's nothing wrong with crying at an emotional video, even if you're a journalist. Apologies."

Wouldn't it be nice if we could just observe what's going on in the tech industry as honestly as possible, calling attention to what's new and noteworthy while being cognizant of real-world problems without resorting to hyperbole and dramatic propaganda-twinged "reporting" that portrays Apple as this really terrible company just because it has a flair for dramatic reveals, beautiful cinematography, those catchphrases, the occasional dad joke, and tear-jerking videos that remind us of the fragility of life and celebrate that fact that technology can do something to strengthen us?

It's better to cry some real tears than to cry a phony river of cynicism.


  • Reply 1 of 61
    Journalist my A, you're not invited and just jealous, go pound sand faker newscaster 
  • Reply 2 of 61
    Pretty much most tech writing in the New York Times is shrill garbage -- David Pogue was the last decent person they had. And the NYT commentariat is a virulently anti-Apple SJW cabal.

    Not sure why anybody pays much attention to them, let alone get worked up about it.
    edited September 12 muthuk_vanalingam13485sdw2001entropyscat52AppleExposedtobybeaglemacguisteveaujony0
  • Reply 3 of 61
    ClassicGeekClassicGeek Posts: 10unconfirmed, member
    How has the writer missed the developers presenting at pretty much every recent hardware or software keynote? Even as an Apple employee, I like to hear what other people are accomplishing with our platforms. 
  • Reply 4 of 61
    I’ve been a fanboy for over twenty years, but the NYT writer has a valid point. The hardware, aside from the price drop, is really underwhelming and out of touch. Schiller especially needs to not present anymore. 

    People don’t expect big crazy news features every time, but no one cares about the camera and the watch screen. Not for those prices anyway. 
  • Reply 5 of 61
    New York Slimes for a reason.  
  • Reply 6 of 61
    I’ve been a fanboy for over twenty years, but the NYT writer has a valid point. The hardware, aside from the price drop, is really underwhelming and out of touch. Schiller especially needs to not present anymore. 

    People don’t expect big crazy news features every time, but no one cares about the camera and the watch screen. Not for those prices anyway. 
    what else should they care about? that the iPhone can act as a cold fusion reactor? that would be some feature worth mentioning, I know. but alas, we can only get some cool camera today. Keep dreaming.
  • Reply 7 of 61
    jibjib Posts: 12member
    Pretty much most tech writing in the New York Times is shrill garbage -- David Pogue was the last decent person they had. And the NYT commentariat is a virulently anti-Apple SJW cabal.

    Not sure why anybody pays much attention to them, let alone get worked up about it.
    As a long time Apple Fan (since 1979) and also a fan of the New York Time news coverage, I have to agree with this comment.  The NYT tech reviews are shrill and not very accurate.  I also liked (and still like David Pogue).  

  • Reply 8 of 61
    I always wondered if there was an illuminated “Applause” sign just out of camera shot at these events. 
    Thanks for the cheerleaders clarification 📣 

    Funniest part of the keynote is when Schiller makes a comment and pauses for a cheer. With none forthcoming he looks completely dumbfounded.
  • Reply 9 of 61
    The manic-depressive iPhone articles in Forbes are ridiculous.
  • Reply 10 of 61
    The colour of one's skin is irrelevant when reporting news. Why isn't showing emotions? What matters is whether the news is accurate and important. Gender, race, religion and emotion should all be irrelevant.

    Nobody was upset when Walter Cronkite got emotional when he reported the death of JFK. 

    I was uncomfortable when Obrien asked for a cheer for Apple retail employees. But I didn't let that prejudice my opinions for the event. And my opinions weren't all positive. I wasn't impressed by the "innovation." I.e., an improved iPhone camera, an extra half inch iPad screen, an always on Watch. Yawn^3.
    edited September 12 radarthekat
  • Reply 11 of 61
    I’ve been a fanboy for over twenty years, but the NYT writer has a valid point. The hardware, aside from the price drop, is really underwhelming and out of touch. Schiller especially needs to not present anymore. 

    People don’t expect big crazy news features every time, but no one cares about the camera and the watch screen. Not for those prices anyway. 
    If you’ve been a fanboy of Apple for over twenty years, then you should know that, with the exception of the occasions when they introduce a new product category (which isn’t that often, not even when Steve Jobs was alive), these announcements are always about incremental updates to their existing products. It is literally how this business works. Put out a device, and issue updated models on a regular basis to stay competetive and compelling. Based on Apple’s ongoing success at selling these things, your declaration that “no one cares about the camera and the watch screen” is not a factual statement.
  • Reply 12 of 61
    Silly journalists... If tech companies would get political, what would news outlets sell?

    Speaking of emotions, for me the best product is the always-on Watch 5. Now I can have something (smart) on my wrist that is not a cold, faceless monolith most of the time.
  • Reply 13 of 61
    Oh, how I miss the objective journalism of Walt Mossberg and David Pogue. They were last of the best. As for Warzel he's a nonentity. Charlie Warzel brings absolutely nothing to the table. Not only about Apple but the history of the tech industry as whole. Daniel you have brought so much intuitive insight on AppleInsider and Twitter. I have followed your scripts possibly since my first Mac2CI. Please continue with your acute perceptions of the industry. Dump Warzel nowl.  
  • Reply 14 of 61
    entropysentropys Posts: 1,894member
    Too many journalist believe they are cultural gatekeepers. It kills them that nobody takes them seriously anymore.
  • Reply 15 of 61

    ..."volatile, fragile... eerily calm" I guess in the face of a massive dystopia caused by the upcoming comet impact-tsunami-volcanic eruption-mass extinction-continental breakup of Pangeic proportions?

    Yeah, OK. Some things going on today are pretty bad. Lots of other things are pretty great. But you know, even in WWII with ten million people dying, they made comedies, wrote songs, fell in love, laughed, had picnics, played baseball, didn't curl up in a ball.

    Both the NYT and the Wired writers should have gone and had something good for lunch before they should have deleted and started over. Overwrought is never a good tone for a writer.
  • Reply 16 of 61
    FolioFolio Posts: 652member
    You'd think Apple was a cigarette-maker from much of the snarky reportage. No idea why. The hope for better rankings in The Supreme Search algorithm?
  • Reply 17 of 61
    jungmarkjungmark Posts: 6,718member
    I’ve been a fanboy for over twenty years, but
    Well I stopped reading at this point. 

    No no one is forcing you to watch or write about it. 
  • Reply 18 of 61
    The problem is the script writing is becoming clichéd, and often relies on similar voicing and phrasing for various speakers. If I hear one more person say "We're sure you'll love it as much as we do," or "We can't wait to get it in your hands..." I may throw my crappy Apple Remote into my screen.

    Phil and Craig occasionally interject a little more unique personality into their delivery, and with some  unscripted asides - but mostly, its sounds very repetitive. 

    This does a disservice to the the products and services being introduced.

    So Apple needs to change up the copy writers, or enforce a mandate of varied voices, vocabulary, and styles, and cut way back on repetitive/clichéd phrases

    They also often talk exhaustively about a feature, and then show you a commercial, which can be a bit anti-climactic. Perhaps show the commercial first to delight, and then present it in greater detail. (Slofies for example)

    More "real people" stories where appropriate would be great, as those are often very powerful.
    edited September 12 cat52anantksundaram
  • Reply 19 of 61
    Why not the same venom for Samsung, Google, Huawei, Playstation, Xbox? I'm sick and tired of irrational hatred directed towards one specific company and ignoring the others.
  • Reply 20 of 61
    Pretty much most tech writing in the New York Times is shrill garbage -- David Pogue was the last decent person they had. And the NYT commentariat is a virulently anti-Apple SJW cabal.

    Not sure why anybody pays much attention to them, let alone get worked up about it.
    Who's worked up about? Covering it for a column doesn't infer being emotionally worked up, that I know of. 
Sign In or Register to comment.