Take a break from the “Apple is a closed system” meme

For just a second, anyhow.

This post was sparked by a discussion on an online group I belong to. Said discussion was itself sparked by this piece in Gawker, which trots out the predictable anti-Apple arguments (Apple is creating a closed ecosystem for its products, etc.) The discussion turned to journalism and the fear that Steve Jobs somehow has media “under his thumb.”

Warning: post has rant-like qualities.

Ahem.

1. Apple is a device company, not a media company. There’s a large misperception that iTunes and the App Store are the major way Apple makes money. And while the company does make money off the iTunes store ($1.1 billion in the last quarter), they made more than $5.3 billion in revenue in the same quarter from selling iPhones (which are hardware devices).

2. iPhones and iPads are a tiny fraction of their respective markets (if you count the iPad as a computer, that is, not as a new class of tablet device). The iPhone has captured about 25% of the U.S. smartphone market, which is about 20% of the overall cell phone market in the U.S. So about 5% of cell phones in the U.S. are iPhones. It’s very hard to argue monopolistic power when a company is leveraging such a tiny portion of the market.

3. Is Apple actually trying to create its own proprietary network where it’s a curator of content? Sure, to an extent. But this is highly overstated — if you’re smart enough to open a Web browser on your iThing (either Safari or Opera), you get the entire Internet.

The iBooks store will feature books from the Apple store … but you can already get Kindle, Nook, Stanza and Olive e-reader apps for the iPad and iPhone (plus a few others that I’m forgetting now). The iPod app on the iPhone and iPad features music from your iTunes library … which you can either buy through iTunes or by importing .mp3 downloads or even music from CDs. (I hear a few people still have those.) And, on the books front, Apple supports the ePub format … which the Kindle does not.

(If you’re looking for a completely closed format, the Kindle is an excellent villain … but no one seems to be going after Amazon.)

4. Even if Apple were to preapprove every bit of content that appeared on an iThing — down to individual news stories — it would probably still have a market for its devices. Which is the entire point. Demand for the iPod/iPad/iPhone operates in an open market. If people don’t want their stuff, they won’t buy it.

Linux is a completely open and free system for desktops. It has about a 2% adoption rate in the U.S.

In my job, I use or have recently used computers running Mac OS 10.5, Mac OS 10.6, iPhone OS 3.1.1, Windows 7, Windows XP, Debian Lenny, Debian Etch, and Ubuntu Jaunty Jackalope. None of them seem to have a monopoly on the market.

Look, there are plenty of threats to journalism out there. You can read about some here.

But I have a hard time thinking Apple is one of them.

OK, end rant. For a cool look at the future of tablet computing, check out this piece from Wired magazine. I especially like this quote (emphasis mine)

Compared to other kinds of information that computers process today, text has an exceptionally small footprint. With the arrival of the tablet, we have crossed a critical threshold: Where text is concerned, we effectively have infinite computational resources, connectivity, and portability. For decades, futurists have dreamed of the “universal book”: a handheld reading device that would give you instant access to every book in the Library of Congress. In the tablet era, it’s no longer technology holding us back from realizing that vision; it’s the copyright holders.

(This was originally posted over at my personal blog. I’m thinking about doing a primer for journalists covering open/closed source topics. Interested? Let me know.)

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CASE STUDY: Using Twitter to report the recent Taser case in Columbia

On March 18, around 5:30 p.m., a man was shot with a Taser on Ninth Street in Columbia. Here’s the lede from the Columbia Missourian report:

Police shocked a man with a Taser after he reportedly assaulted a Columbia police officer during an incident at Lakota Coffee Co. on Ninth Street on Thursday afternoon.

Unfortunately, the Missourian didn’t get this story posted until 6:39 p.m. March 19 — a full 24 hours after the news happened. The Columbia Tribune didn’t do that much better in its report — the first story the Trib published came at 12:51 p.m. March 19. It was later updated at 1:41 p.m.

So why does it take the Trib 18 hours to turn a significant crime story? And why does it take the Missourian even longer? Easy: Both pieces are one-source stories from the spokeswoman at the Columbia Police Department.

Full disclosure: I am the opinion editor at the Missourian, but I’m currently home on paternity leave with my second child. I’m pretty disconnected from the newsroom right now, though I’m still getting my usual load of news releases and inter-office memos via e-mail (i.e. I’m still on the listserv). I did not get in touch with the Missourian about this story or for this blog post.

I first learned of the story through Twitter when I saw this tweet:

He wasn’t the only witness either:

She saw it, too:

Clearly, there were witnesses, but none appeared in either story. That’s a shame, because Tasers are a controversial issue within the Columbia community and has been for a while. One group of activists is completely opposed to Tasers, saying they’re too dangerous and can cause accidental deaths. The other side sees it as a useful, justified and necessary law-enforcement tool. To both sides, this is news: It’s either another example of an unneccessary use of force, or it’s a good example of the dangers police officers face and a textbook argument for why we should be equipping them with the best tools for the job.

Whichever way you lean, it’s news. So why wait to report it? Why not report what you know as you know it, like she did:

And as for this one-source thing — why? Witnesses are clearly willing to talk about it:

Plus, news spreads quickly over social media (check out all the retweets):

Here’s how I would have done it if I wasn’t up to my elbows in diapers:

1. Report what you know as you know it: Confirm someone was shot with a Taser. Publish that. Then, start contacting witnesses. Get to the scene ASAP and start asking questions. Start making contacts on Twitter and Facebook — ask them to call the office or to let you DM them your cell number.

2. Continue publishing facts as you can confirm. If a witness saw a police officer get punched, put it in with attribution. You don’t have to wait for the official spokeswoman comment if you have an eye witness. But do be careful with the language — don’t make anyone guilty or a victim, just report the facts. Let the reader decide.

3. When the official spokeswoman is ready to tell the official side, add it to the story. And while you have her ear, ask her to corroborate your witness statements. If the stories differ, be transparent about it.

And most importantly — don’t just put the story on your site and hope people will come find it. Use those same social networks to get the word out that you have the story.

Is Facebook Turning Into the New Google News? :: MinOnline

This is why your news organization needs to be on Facebook.

Oh, and here’s another.