Apple has embraced the new niche media - and you should be paying attention

Adam Tinworth
Adam Tinworth

There’s a number of interesting things that journalists can take away from last week’s Apple keynote. I’ll return to things like the changes to Apple News and the possibilities opened up by Messages as a developer platform later in the week. But right now, I’m most interested by this – probably the biggest public interview any Apple staff did around the event:

An hour-long public interview conducted with Phil Schiller, Senior Vice President, Worldwide Marketing and Craig Federighi, senior vice president, software engineering. And who was the interview with? A blogger.

Well, OK, not just any blogger. John Gruber’s Daring Fireball has become probably the most influential site for Apple users in the decade since he quit his day job to write the blog full-time.

Last year, he pulled off a major coup by getting Schiller along to talk on the live version of his podcast – The Talk Show – at WWDC, Apple’s annual developer conference. In the year since, he’s had Federighi and Eddie Cue call into the show to talk about Swift, Apple’s new programming language.

The rise of the new enthusiast press

The Mac-specific press has been in decline for years. MacWorld magazine closed its print doors a little under two year ago, even though a rump of it survives online. And new, magazine-like publications have risen to replace them online. iMore does much the same “how-to” copy you had to turn to the print editions for 15 years ago.

But throughout that time, Gruber has been establishing himself as a leading commenter on Apple, through a combination of links, analysis, commentary and occasional reviews. His site is truly of the web – it bears no similarity to anything we’d regard as a magazine. And yet, he’s landing interviews with big Apple figures.

For Apple, it’s a mixed blessing. They have a conduit to the most passionate, enthusiastic fan community via Gruber. And they have a knowledgeable questioner who is inclined to be pro-Apple. But that same immersion in Apple and its technical infrastructure means that they’ll be challenged on a depth of technical detail a lay journalist wouldn’t have the interest or knowledge to pursue. It’s interesting watching the video rather than listening to the podcast of the event, simply because you can see much more clearly that Federighi is on edge.

Beyond the softball question

Many journalists would look at the interview and dismiss it as “softball”. Certainly Gruber doesn’t challenge them on the high-level issues that the mainstream press are obsessed with. But he does extract quite a lot of interesting detail that wouldn’t have emerged otherwise.Certainly, I learned more about how we’re likely to see the various OSes evolve in the coming years from this interview than any other coverage I saw.

It is, quite simply, an interview for enthusiasts, and it’s very interesting to see Apple increasingly opening itself up to that. Others have trod this path before. Blizzard – makers of games like World of Warcraft, Hearthstone and Overwatch – have had senior executives appearing on podcasts and getting into very detailed discussions on decisions that weren’t popular with the fans.

Charles Arthur suggested that Gruber might eventually aim for the top – Cook himself:

I guess they can pick from Schiller, Federighi and Eddy Cue for a few years before it has to aim for the top with Cook. After whom, what?

And I’m sure Gruber would love the opportunity to interview Cook (and Jony Ive, but it’s interesting how he’s sliding from view) – but I wonder if the WWDC event would be the right place for that. By landing Federighi, the man in charge of all Apple’s software efforts, including the operating systems, they had almost the perfect guest for the people in the room – largely developers. WWDC is, after all, a developer conference.

However, all these are details. What this event marks is the rise of a new form of specialist press (if you’ll excuse the print-centric term), one running on low overheads – Gruber is essentially a one-man band, although he does have an editor on the podcast, and had event support and videographers for the live Talk Show – and created by a single, insightful commentator building a useful site for people with a deep interest in a niche subject.

It’s inescapably a form of journalism, one that rests on the nexus of what we used to call the consumer press and B2B. It just looks nothing like the journalism we’re used to. One consistent lesson of the web: your competitors probably look nothing at all like you.

appleB2Bdaring fireballjohn gruberJournalismniche sitespodcaststhe talk show

Adam Tinworth Twitter

Adam is a lecturer, trainer and writer. He's been a blogger for over 20 years, and a journalist for more than 30. He lectures on audience strategy and engagement at City, University of London.