Samantha Sharf | How Jobs saved journalism
Elements of Style | A man in a turtleneck found answers to issues plaguing news media
October 11, 2011, 11:41 pm·
Elements of Style
When I began writing for The Daily Pennsylvanian in fall 2008, the worst thing you could have told me was that my story would be running online only. Editors tried to sell the placement as no big deal, but there was something thrilling about seeing the words “By Samantha Sharf” on dusty gray newsprint and getting ink on my hands. I was sure this feeling could not be replicated in front of a computer screen.
Today I feel differently, and I thank Steve Jobs for my change of heart.
This is the story of how Jobs saved professional journalism from extinction and me from myself. (Or at least paved these roads.)
Although you wouldn’t know it from the outpouring of praise since his death last Wednesday, Jobs’ relationship with the news media was complex. After introducing the iPod in October 2001, Jobs became the key source for Apple news — the world’s most coveted information. But he held his knowledge close and revealed it on his own terms.
Journalists live for bits of information, opportunities to “connect the dots” (to borrow a phrase from Jobs famous 2005 Stanford University commencement speech), so this arrangement caused some frustration.
Jobs was a storyteller as well — he chose to present his products through large-scale reveals that built suspense and set expectations.
Dressed in his signature black turtleneck and blue jeans, in January 2010 Jobs introduced the iPad. In front of a giant projection of the product showing NYTimes.com, Jobs talked about a superior browsing experience that you could control with your fingers and about the wonders of “holding the internet in your hands.”
I was skeptical. The iPad seemed like an oversized iPod Touch, and I had never understood why anyone would want an iPhone without the phone. To make matters more complicated, by using the The New York Times website Jobs was implying the iPad would change the way we read. I was not sure I liked that idea. I am an old-fashioned girl.
Then, in March 2011, Jobs introduced the iPad 2. By then I had held an iPad in my hands and had used it to get my news. It was growing on me.
The deal was done in July when Apple told me, “We will never stop sharing our memories, or getting lost in a good book. We’ll always cook dinner and cheer for our favorite team. We’ll still go to meetings, make home movies and learn new things. But how we do all this, will never be the same.” It was like the commercial was made for me, the facts began to come together to prove Jobs was onto something.
In the last two years Jobs has gone from being a powerful source to a media mogul in his own right. Blog posts abound telling the tale of an editor who was fired because he upset Jobs or publications redesigning iPad applications because Jobs did not approve.
Slowly, however, the genius of Jobs’ creation began to reveal itself. Magazines and newspapers that had long struggled with how to monetize and legitimize digital content now had a way to package and sell that content. Newspapers could have sections again and pages could once more be turned (albeit without dirtying readers’ fingers).
Today, picking up the DP on Wednesday has a bit more magic than other days, but I wouldn’t object to a weekly web column that didn’t appear in the paper. I would love to say that this change in perspective is simply because editors have developed stronger skills of persuasion or because I have become wiser with age, but that would be giving my colleagues and myself too much credit. This revolution in journalism has very little to do with me and very much to do with Jobs, the black turtlenecks we will all miss and the devices on which most of us learned of his death.
Samantha Sharf, a former Managing Editor for The Daily Pennsylvanian, is a College senior from Old Brookville, N.Y. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Elements of Style appears every Wednesday.