What Drives Apple News Obsession: Is It the People Or the Press?

(Photo by the Associated Press/ A man inspects the U.S. Libyan embassy after the attack.)

Amid the latest Apple frenzy, there’s been a lot of discussion about the relationship between Apple and the press.

As an example, a few days ago, Larry Magid had a thoughtful column about the subject. If you missed it, go back and give it a read. He walks through the utter predictability of Apple product announcements and releases, and the equally predictable cycles of reactions:

“I’m keenly aware of all of these phases because, as a technology analyst for CBS News, I’m frequently called by radio and TV stations that — like most news outlets — get caught up in the frenzy.

Frankly, I’m bothered by all the attention given to Apple when you consider how other companies are making perfectly good competing products.”

In this case, Magid argues that we in the press (he includes himself) are being unfair to Apple competitors. And he has a point. Other products have more advanced features, better designs (arguably). So why all the obsession with Apple?

The other way this issue has been raised is in terms of our overall values and news judgment. This came up on Sept. 12 when the Libyan embassy was attacked the same day the iPhone 5 was released. TechCrunch, among others, lamented the way the iPhone 5 seemed to trump Libya in news coverage:

“Our national fixation with shiny new Apple gadgets has overshadowed impending military action in Libya for the killing of an American diplomat. If CNN’s public “news pulse” is any indication,iPhone 5 news was more than twice as popular as an international crisis that has our Commander-in-Chief sending two Navy destroyers armed with Tomahawk missiles off the coast of Libya. “It is a sad, sad commentary on our nation when #apple is trending higher than #libya,”tweeted army officer and author Jessica Scott.”

Point taken. However, the things that trend on news sites are usually never the things we wish were trending. Just see the most popular stories on the Huffington Post (Top story: “‘Bagel Heads’ Are Asia’s New Beauty Trend). Or heck, even the Mercury News (Top story: Beach Boys break up again — Brian Wilson, 2 others, forced out). These lists don’t tend to reflect our better angels.

The reason for the endless Apple obsession is easy to explain. Even the most trivial post about Apple generates big pageviews, as Magid points out:

“When it comes to blog posts, there’s another incentive — stories about Apple products get more hits than other stories. So if you’re looking to maximize viewers (which often translates into more revenue), then you can’t go wrong by writing about Apple, which, of course, is exactly what I just did.”

This is the dilemma we now face. Do we resist the temptation to throw up endless Apple trivia just to chase pageviews? And is it the press that’s generating this, or are we just responding to it?

Probably some of both. But we should keep in mind that should we stop all Apple coverage tomorrow (unlikely), that would probably do little to end the shocking hunger for news about all things Apple that exists around the globe. Check out for a moment, Google Search Trends. It’s not been unusual in recent weeks to see keywords like “ipad” “iphone 5″ “iOS 6″ and “maps” to be among the most trending search terms.

This matters because more so than sources like Twitter and Facebook, search still drives the largest volume of traffic to news sites. And over the past month or so, search interest in Apple has almost reached the same level it did last year when Steve Jobs died. See:

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In part, that is Jobs’ legacy. Press aside, he somehow managed to stoke an incredible, worldwide fascination with every Apple product announcement. Why have Samsung or Google never been able to replicate this? Hard to say. But press coverage aside, there are millions of people sitting at their computers constantly typing in these search terms to get every granular bit of information about Apple.

So what is the role of the press in this case? In this new era of digital journalism, should we just embrace this as the wisdom of the crowd, and happily surf the tidal wave of traffic any Apple post brings? Or do attempt to rise above, and be more forceful about telling the masses what’s good for them? Push more socially relevant content with higher civic value at them? As we use to say, “Get them to eat their asparagus, too.”

I don’t have an easy answer. It’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg dilemma, really. What causes the Apple hype? Is it the people or the press? In either case, how to change that, get people to be more interested in socially redeeming news is an age-old problem in our business.

I would sum up that dilemma like this: Is it the role of the press to get people to care about things that they don’t appear to care about?