Friday, March 03, 2006

Nowak vs. Wozniak: IT Journalism Continues its Slide

You know, sometimes I think that IT journalism can be its own worst enemy.

Last week, Peter Nowak published an interview with Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, in which Woz appeared to make some pretty sweeping (if tactless) statements about Apple's recent strategy. Someone on an Apple-oriented mailing list noted the interview in his newspaper, and Woz, busy unpacking from his trip, sent off a quick email saying that a couple of the syndicated headlines were "way off base", and clarified the comments he made, implying that Nowak took some of his statements out of context.

Now Nowak has gone ballistic. In a response, he states, "Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak has posted a statement online," which he calls "a serious attack – not only on my credibility, but also on that of the press in general."

Lovely. First of all, it isn't an
official "statement" that Woz "posted online". Woz responded to an email on a mailing list. The mailing list software archived the email, and it's now available on the list's web archive. Either Nowak doesn't know the difference, or he's being rather deceptive about the source of Woz's comment.

But at least Nowak was nice enough to provide a link to the archive message, a transcript of the original interview, and an MP3 recording of the same, "
so that readers and listeners can decide for themselves whether Mr Wozniak was pushed or used."

Let's do just that.

On Intel

Nowak's Article:
The change in processor, for one, is something Wozniak never imagined.

"It's like consorting with the enemy. We've had this long history of saying the enemy is the big black-hatted guys, and they kind of represent evil. We are different and by being different we're better," he says.

"All of sudden we're the same in this hardware regard, so it's a little hard to swallow your words."

The Original Transcript:

Q: So there are two interesting things going on with Apple these days. First is the switch to Intel processors. What do you think about that?

A: Even from when it was first announced, I was kind of bored with it. The reasoning for it was correct. [...] No, Intel just did a very good logic design to not turn on more than needed at any time on the chip and it keeps the power lower, so we'll have higher-speed Macintoshs. And we switched before to a Power PC. Anyone who went through that transition of going from one processor to another with emulators to make the old stuff work, this one actually should be simpler and easier because we've developed for so long on Intel hardware anyway.

Q: Do you think on a philosophical level though there's a good many people out there who think, oh I can't believe Apple has switched to Intel, it's kind of like consorting with the enemy?

A: Absolutely. And you said it exactly right, it's like consorting with the enemy. We have had this long, long history of saying the enemy is the big black-hatted guys, they kind of represent evil, and we are different and by being different we're better. All of a sudden we're the same in this hardware regard, it's a little hard to swallow your own words from the past. And if it wasn't needed, I would say we shouldn't do it, and I have some questions as to how much it's needed. But I don't really have any fears or it's not going to bother me that some software isn't going to work for a while. I mean, anybody who jumps into it real early still has their old computer anyway.

First off, I don't know where "something Woz never imagined" comes from. It's unsupported by anything in the transcript. In fact, Woz talks about where PowerPC was going wrong, what he would rather have seen, why Intel was the right technical choice, and how it's not worse than the move to Power PC.

But read the original transcript again. Nowak asks, "What do you think about it?" Woz replies, "Not a big deal, it was the right thing to do technically, and after all, we've changed CPUs before." Nowak follows up with "Do you think some people will think this is terrible?", Woz agrees and explains why--in the context of what those "some people" will think.

Then in the article, Nowak inverts the order of the comments, leads with Woz's explanation of why some users will react badly, and passes it off as Woz's own opinion. When Woz notes that Apple can't play the "Apple good; Intel evil" card anymore--"
it's a little hard to swallow your own words from the past"--Nowak conveniently elides "from the past". After all, Apple used to compare IBM to Big Brother from Orwell's 1984, but noticing that won't sell copy, I guess.

When someone asks you what you think, gets you to agree that some people will have a different opinion than you do, and then passes off that agreement as your own opinion, that's more than leading.

On iPods:

Nowak's Article:
As for iPods, Wozniak has mixed feelings. The success of the devices has been fantastic for Apple, in that they have diversified a company previously dependent on one product. But they are distracting Apple from its focus, and the company may be better served by spinning off the business.

"We're a computer company, and we really think computers," he says.

The iPods have their own operating systems, software and processor, so "there's a different group working on it anyway".
The Original Transcript:

Q: The other thing with Apple these days is what about iPods? Obviously they have a growing importance in the business, what do you think about the whole phenomenon?

A: That one totally surprises me. I'm just blown away by the number of stores I go into that never really carried big consumer electronics, music-type products for ages anyway, since Walkmans. And they just got these huge areas of you know, so many little carrying cases and headsets and this entire iPod auxiliary world. It just totally amazes me, and now it's getting to the point that everybody has an iPod and how do you sell them two, and once they have two, how do you sell them three?

Q: Is it a good move for the company to be putting more emphasis on that aspect of the business?

A: It's a good move in the sense that it's ... not diversion. What do you call it when you put your eggs in more than one basket?

Q: Diversity?

A: Diversity, right. So diversification that the company no longer resides on one product, its fortunes with up and down markets and up and down competition and security flaws and bad press, we aren't subject to one product driving the whole company's financial stake. So it's very, very good for Apple. Maybe it should be a separate division.

Q: You think so?

A: We're a computer company, we really think computers. Of course every product nowadays has a computer inside every technical product, so it's not too hard. I think spinning off a separate division for iPods makes an awful lot of sense.

Q: In what sense?

A: It doesn't have any Macintosh software in it really, it interfaces with the Macintosh's iTunes, and the PC iTunes, but really it's got its own processor, its own operating system, so there's a different group working on it anyway.


Also, as an example, Apple has long, long believed we should be a hardware and software company, and I've got to say there's a lot of people - myself, even Steve Jobs - have had doubts on occasion as to how we should run this, but by being a hardware and software company we have the integration - the hardware knows about the software, the software knows about the hardware, and they take advantage of each other. The funny thing is, we even did that back in the Apple II.

So here we go, we got the iPod and the iTunes - it's a satellite to your computer. Only by one company having their feet in both camps could the job have been done so well.


Q: So when you say divide it, are you suggesting perhaps a separate public company that deals with iPods in and of itself?

A: You know, I wouldn't go so far as to suggest how it's spun out, but one thing I believe... at Hewlett-Packard, we had divisions out in very many, different, nice-environment cities of the country - Colorado Springs, Santa Rosa, you know, we had some up in Portland. These divisions all kind of had their nice little living entity areas, and it makes the people work together more as a family, as a community. I believe in that, and Apple's [unknown word - world, perhaps] development is in one campus. This is the only time we've had two such huge products at once, so maybe one should be somewhere else. Even when we had Apple IIs and Macintoshs, the two groups weren't in the same building. The two groups didn't really interface.

So Nowak says, "what do you think of iPods?", Woz gushes over how amazing it is, how it's the right thing for Apple, and Nowak calls that "mixed feelings." Then, when Woz suggests that maybe Apple should move the iPod group to a different physical location (as they did when developing the Macintosh), Nowak spins it into "the company may be better served by spinning off the business"--even though Woz specifically said that's not what he meant.

A Serious Attack?

So what about Nowak's assertion that Woz's email accused Nowak of "pushing" him and having "an agenda", and consistutes an "attack on the press"?

In the email to which Nowak himself links, Woz makes precisely five remarks about the interview itself:
  1. "a couple of headlines... were way off base". Different syndication channels put different headlines over the article. I don't know which ones Woz refers to, but it's hardly an attack on either Nowak or the press in general.
  2. "I did NOT say that the iPod division should be spun off and I feel used in that regard." The first part is factually true, and the second part is a reasonable reaction.
  3. "The reporter again pushed me to say I was negative [on the Intel transition]." Ok, that one's probably an error on Woz's part--I see only two questions about Intel in the transcript.
  4. "That statement [that some Mac fans will be upset because of Apple's previous 'good vs. evil' message] must have been stretched into being one about my own thinking." Looks pretty accurate to me.
  5. "The problem with thinking is that if you think out a 30 second explanation, it passes over the 5 second sound-byte crowd." This is especially apparent in Woz's iPod division comments. In the flow of conversation, he goes back and forth a bit, obviously (if you listen to the recording) thinking out loud. Nowak distills this into a few nice, tight, but misleading sound bytes. Maybe this is the "serious attack on the press" Nowak's howling about?
So, there you have it: Nowak publishes an an article that misrepresents the original interview, Woz clarifies it (from memory, not a transcript or recording) in an email message to a third party, and Nowak misrepresents both the medium and the content of Woz's clarification.

But what really mystifies me is why Nowak went to the trouble of posting a transcript and recording that proves that Woz was right.