Ironically, News Corp., which is not currently known for appreciating privacy -- given the phone hacking scandal involving its now-shuttered News of the World tabloid -- has provided some good privacy tips in its Wall St. Journal.
It's a bit early for our annual report card on our trends and predictions, but I wanted to take a look at one prediction: The battle between the iPad and the iPad Killers, the race for apps and the impact of tablet computing will be a main theme (you can find an extended discussion about this here).
We were right about the battle of iPad and iPad Killers -- every new tablet reviewed this year has been reviewed in terms of the iPad. The conclusion: a lot of good tries, a lot of misses, and no other tablet has killed off the iPad 2.
But there's one aspect to the iPad vs. iPad Killers that we missed.When it became clear that no other tablet would dethrone the iPad, the media shifted to another story angle: the iPhone vs. the iPhone Killer -- by which I mean, of course, Android.One of the first of these articles appeared in April's Wired, How the Android Ecosystem Threatens the iPhone.
Other articles have appeared in other major outlets, including Bloomberg BusinessWeek.
It's a microtrend we overlooked, but an interesting lesson for those of us who pitch the media. The point is that the media often look for a backlash story, even if it's not a direct backlash. Even if the target is Apple, which generally gets very positive coverage.
By that we meant that publishers are going to need to figure out the mechanics of charging for app-based subscriptions. Regardless of whether or not they actually develop an app specifically for the iPad or a competing tablet platform, and whether or not they actually roll out a subscription fee for app-based access, what's clear is that 2011 will a make-or-break year in terms of how publishers and readers approach app-based access to magazines.
Since then, we've seen Apple make a significant change in its subscription policies, as reported in the New York Times -- a breakthrough we had said would be necessary for magazine publishers and subscription platforms: "Apple Offers Subscriptions for All iPad Publications."
The latest validation of our prediction comes from the Wall St. Journal, which reported today that Kobo would not be allowed to sell digital books directly from its apps -- due to pressure from Apple. At the same time, the Journal announced that it will stop "circumventing Apple's payment system by providing links to its website from inside the iPad app, (and) will soon remove ll purchasing option in the app in response to Apple's new rules." Instead, people "will have to either call customer service or visit wsj.com."
While both announcements represent a step backwards for consumers, it shows that Apple is taking a strong stance in protecting app subscriptions. Making things more complicated is not a win-win for content developers, consumers or, ultimately, Apple, I think, because consumers will be frustrated with both the content developers and Apple. In an interesting article about Hulu, the New York Times reported about consumer frustration with the lack of availability of some TV programs via Hulu -- for example, some programs are available on any platform, some limited to only your laptop.
For app subscriptions and video content to continue to be pervasive, they must make it easy for consumers to purchase. Setting obstacles is the wrong policy. I expect that ultimately consumers will get what they want, but that may turn 2012 into the Year of the App Subscription, Part II -- while things sort themselves out.
You can read more about the issue at Technologizer by Harry McCracken.
Given all the ink or pixels devoted to covering the scandal at the 168-year-old News of the World and parent company, News Corp., I'd have to say that the scandal has become one of the summers top two biggest stories.
The other, in case you've been able to forget, is the political machinations around the debt ceiling.
From a practical matter, it seems that executives other than the editors had to have been aware of some of the money being paid out to British police officers. After all, someone had to prepare the checks or withdraw the cash while someone had to approve the payments. And those payments came out of someone's budget. (Knowing how budget meetings go, I would have liked to have been in the room when those budget items had to be justified.)
But what's interesting about the scandal isn't the scandal itself.
It's that I've yet to see much noise/buzz/commentary on what the scandal says about journalistic integrity and standards.
Most news organizations today are focused on covering breaking news -- which is not always the same as breaking the news itself. For example, lots of local TV news stations boast about covering breaking news by which they mean local crimes, water main breaks, storms hitting the area, etc. They rarely talk about their role in uncovering the news. (In terms of local TV news, perhaps that's because a lot of their news -- like the water main breaks -- impact entire communities and are rarely "Exclusives.")
So in a culture of covering breaking news, getting the news out first is a priority.
News of the World, however, had a culture that also prized the ability to uncover news, to generate exclusives -- and that may have helped it become England's largest Sunday paper by circulation.
But the end result, as we know all know, is a culture that led to breaking the law. Even before laws were broken, the News of the World's culture led its reporters, with the knowledge and approval of its editors, to push beyond the limits of journalistic integrity.
More than ever, because of the scandal, the media must also look at what "integrity" means. Exclusives can be important, but journalists and bloggers need to define what steps they will and won't take. Will they pay money to get access to a noteworthy source for an interview? If they pay money to that source, how will they disclose that fact? (And how will they vet that the source is factual?) What criteria will they use to determine whether they use confidential source (those quoted without direct attribution)? The New York Times has a criteria it published online but a lot of other news organizations have not made clear the criteria they use.
The media should also ask itself about where the limits should be -- where that line is -- and what steps they'll take to prevent reporters, editors, bloggers, etc. from crossing that line.
It's not only journalists who should be asking and answering these questions. It's also the consumers of newspapers, magazines and social media, who are important because they make the decisions about issues and subscriptions to buy.
What's interesting is that more than ever, journalists, publicists and social media practitioners are in some ways more tied together than ever. Or perhaps it's that journalists and publicists are in the same boat and are re-arranging the deck furniture.
Either way, we all must work on an evolving definition of what's news and how to communicate news, opinion and press releases. For bloggers and reporters alike, that includes disclosing potential conflicts of interest. For PR functions, when you work with bloggers and other social media influencers, it's important to make sure they disclose any conflict of interests.
Interestingly, the Journal's Bret Stephens wrote an interesting column today (after I wrote the original version of this blog article last night) that discusses journalistic integrity by comparing WIkiLeaks to News of the World as a way to compare news in the public interest (such as uncovering government corruption) and news "merely of interest to the public," which Stephens defines as "just so much tittle-tattle about essentially private lives." I don't necessarily agree with Stephens' conclusions, but I think it's a discussion worth having.
What should "journalistic integrity" is now an open question, one that we must address in the wake of the phone hacking scandal.