By Philip Elmer-DeWitt
February 17, 2012

A lesson in access journalism in the wake of the New York Times‘ Foxconn series

“An Apple spokesman said no executives were available to comment.”

That sentence, appearing 12 paragraphs into a 14-graph story by Brian X. Chen in Thursday’s New York Times, speaks volumes about how Apple (AAPL) deals with press coverage it doesn’t like.

For more than a week, the company had been seeding selected media outlets with early access to its next Mac operating system, dubbed Mountain Lion. (See Apple public relations’ new media pecking order.)

In a long piece posted Thursday morning, Daring Fireball‘s John Gruber — a Philadelphia-based blogger know to write positively about Apple — described how he was summoned to a fancy hotel room in New York, given a polished one-on-one keynote presentation by Phil Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president for worldwide marketing, and sent home with a loaner MacBook Air pre-loaded with the new OS. “We’re starting to do things differently,” Schiller told Gruber.

Wall Street Journal
‘s Jessica Vascellaro got one better: a briefing by Schiller and an exclusive interview with Apple CEO Tim Cook.

The Times, however, got skunked. No Cook interview. No quotes that weren’t in the press release. No call-back for Chen. (However David Pogue, an independent contractor who does product reviews for the Times, did get the full Schiller treatment.)

The reason for all this disrepect, the
Washington Post
‘s Erik Wemple speculates, was the hard-hitting series the Times‘ ran last month on working conditions in Foxconn’s Chinese factories (See Apple in China: The New York Times goes for the Pulitzer).

Foxconn assembles roughly 40% of the world’s electronic devices, including Dells, HPs and Sonys. But the Times‘ series singled out Apple in way that many, including CEO Cook (see here), thought misleading and unfair.

Was the cold shoulder the Gray Lady got this week really payback for the series?  Reporters and editors at the Times seem to think so. Wemple got two quotes, one off the record, one on:

“They are playing access journalism … I’ve heard it from people inside Apple: They said, look, you guys are going to get less access based on the iEconomy series.”

“We’re never happy with our access to Apple. We never have been. Apple is a difficult company to report on,” says Damon Darlin, the paper’s tech editor. When asked how big a deal is the Journal’s exclusive with Cook, Darlin responds: “Talking to the CEO of one of the largest technology companies, the highest-valued company of the world? Yes, we would like to do that. They know that.”

Apple’s strategy seems to be working. Mountain Lion got an extraordinary level of press coverage. Shortly after noon on Thursday we counted 135 published stories, all of them — as near as we could tell — positive.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story suggested, incorrectly, that Times‘ David Pogue had not been given the same access and courtesy as the other reviewers.

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