Signs of journalism’s economic maladies abound. The biggest newspaper in New Orleans, 182 years old, laid off all of its staff last week. The country’s biggest newspaper chain by circulation, Gannett, is trying to stave off a hostile bid by a hedge fund with a track record of aggressive cuts.
Warren Buffett, a bullish newspaper investor for decades who owns about 30 today, said recently that virtually all such publications are “toast.” Even some of the most promising online-only outlets have laid off workers this year.
In the midst of the fallout, Apple CEO Tim Cook announced in March that the tech giant was leaning into the news business by launching a news service, Apple News+, offering monthly subscriptions beginning at $9.99 (roughly Rs. 700) a month.
On the list of 300 some publications that partnered with Apple on the service are dozens of titles that have struggled financially in recent years, among them Newsweek, Time, The New Republic and the Los Angeles Times. One of the publications Apple said it was offering, ESPN the Magazine, announced it was closing a month after the launch of Apple’s new service.
It isn’t likely to be the last, which means an ongoing crisis for the journalism profession in America. From 2008 to 2017, newsroom employment dropped 23%. Public relations jobs now outnumber reporters 6 to 1.
The rise of tech outfits from Facebook to Craigslist has played no small part in the industry’s demise, which has led industry experts to wonder what Apple’s effect might be. Apple, a $930 billion company, is not proposing to actually hire any journalists; rather, it has reportedly offered publications a 50-50 revenue split to distribute their content and sell subscriptions. (The Washington Post is not a participating publication in the new Apple News.)
Cook spoke to The Post to talk about his renovation of the District of Columbia’s Carnegie Library into an Apple Store, a project pegged at more than $30 million – or nearly half the cost of The Boston Globe when it sold a few years ago. Cook also answered a few questions about the journalism business and about privacy.
The questions and answers have been lightly edited for length and clarity.
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Q: Apple is wildly successful as a company, but many newspapers and other publications are still dying. Do you think about trying to play a role in making sure there is still going to be quality journalism in America?
A: Very much so, I think about that a lot. Look at some of the things we’ve done. The creation of Apple News, the focus on that was to be a place where people could come and know they were getting news from trusted sources and that a human editor could decide the top stories of the day, not an algorithm that might be pushing a fake news kind of story or whatever.
And now we’ve taken that a step further and are initially focused on the magazine industry, which was struggling mightily, and what we’re hoping that comes out of this is that we give those great magazines, which I grew up on and we grew up on, and were a key part of how we looked at the world, and we’re hoping to give them a big audience and, you know, help them do well.
We’re also at the same time very worried about what’s happening on social media in terms of fake news, so we’re working with different NGOs and we announced maybe a month or so ago grants to three different organisations, two in the United States and one in Italy, that try to teach kids critical thinking, recognising that this is a skill that perhaps has always been important to some level but arguably is never as important as today.
Q: Are you worried though that the publications you are partnering with might not even be around in 10 years?
A: Well, I want to be a part of ensuring that that’s not the case. So we are putting our full force and weight behind trying to prevent that from happening. And we are certainly not the sole answer for it, but we want to play a very key role in that, because we know that democracy only exists when there is a free and open media, so we really want to play a key role in helping the media.
Q: Apple is attempting to brand itself as a company that prioritises privacy. Why is that such a focus right now?
A: The issue itself, I think, is one of the most important issues that the world is facing in this century. I think it’s that kind of an issue, and I think it has many tentacles in it.
Unfortunately we have seen all too often now, with the many events that have happened over the last several years, that not having privacy means that groups can be pitted against one another, it means that as people get in their heads that privacy is no longer something that they can count on, that their expressions begin to change – you no longer feel free to express yourself because your expressions become broadcast.
And so I think there are so many heavy, weighty issues on this, that we’re trying to sort of inform the public and getting the public to think more about privacy and then also just being clear about our point of view here. This is one that we have long held, it’s not one that we’ve started focusing on in the last couple years – we built the company on it.
© The Washington Post 2019