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Muses Extra: If you’re only killing time, it’ll kill you right back

By Porruka (, July 11, 2002

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By now, everybody who follows things Mac (and many, many people who don’t) knows about IDG cancelling press passes for several Mac Web sites. There have been countless reaction pieces, statements from the afflicted, and abounding discussion, much of it antagonistic. This one’s not going to be much different, except for one thing: I’ll be poking at everybody. In this matter, no one’s hands are completely clean.

Disclosure: NMR Media, LLC has not requested media certification for this or past Expos. In the case of the coming Expo, it is not expected that NMR Media/MacEdition will be represented in New York.

IDG, press passes, and “What’s the Big Deal?”

First, let’s look at the press pass itself. IDG lists in (supposed) detail the criteria by which media representatives can qualify on its media registration. Among the criteria for online publications:

Online Publications (Commercial News Only): Please provide ALL of the following:
  1. Copy of your business card with name, editorial title, and media outlet’s logo
  2. A copy of your online publication’s home page and the masthead page with your name and title appearing in an editorial capacity
  3. A bylined industry-related article written by you within the last 6 months

In the process of researching this piece, I noticed something different. There is now a definition of “Commercial News” on the Macworld Expo site. In fairness, perhaps this was there before the current situation, but I don’t recall ever seeing it before. That definition reads as follows:

An online commercial news outlet:
  • Has a paid subscriber base or is advertising sponsored
  • Publishes original news content at least once per week by employed staff
  • Contains original news content above and beyond links, forums, troubleshooting tips and reader/viewer contributions
  • Does not violate copyright regulations (e.g., illegal software downloads)

I would wager that this addition is new. The “Commercial News Only” indicators on other segments, such as “print publications” or “broadcast media”, do not have separate definitions. Also, it is an interesting difference that simply because a site can publish more often than, for example, monthly, on the Web, this definition requires such a schedule (“original content at least once per week”) in order to be considered “commercial”.

Since part of this overall issue revolves around definition, the act of refining the definition itself is good – despite the content of that refinement.

One must look at why the press pass needs to be obtained in the first place. Beyond the prestige, there are tangible benefits for those who are accredited. Again, from the Macworld Expo site, media credentials allow access to things the Expo-only pass (the suggested alternative) does not.

For example:

Media badges allow access to the Media Center, Exhibit Floor, Keynote, Feature Presentation, and MacBeginnings. Access to the Macworld/Pro Conference, Macworld/Users Conference, Macworld/Power Tools Conferences, and Workshops are granted on a “space-available” basis. Due to extremely limited availability, media do not have access to the Hands-on MacLabs.

So, besides the Expo and the Keynote, there is limited access to other sessions that otherwise would cost hundreds of dollars. Combine this with the media center access as well as any number of “press-only” events that happen during the Expo, and the pass has actual value to Apple, IDG, and those reporting on the event.

Now, given a convention center has finite space, taking even a few of the spaces that paid attendees could fill and reserving them for free passes could be considered a cost to the event organizers. Whether this cost is eaten by IDG (doubtful) or reimbursed by Apple (more likely), the important part is that there is a cost involved.

Who controls the passes? And why?

According to information posted on GraphicPower, Apple “has tremendous pull over who we [IDG] can allow into the show as members of the media”. This information is attributed to Robert Halpin, of MS&L, a public relations firm. Nathalie Welch from Apple’s Products and Technology Media Relations department was specifically named in the exchange presented on the site. Neither Mr. Halpin nor Ms. Welch have responded to requests for comment.

However, Mr. Halpin followed up in a telephone call to GraphicPower Editor-in-Chief Scott McCarty, claiming that IDG was the “culprit” in denying the press pass. According to McCarty, the reason given was “not posting new content recently enough”. For those who see this as proof of a conspiracy, unfortunately, it is not a smoking gun. Both statements can be true as they are without contradiction. It’s entirely possible that Apple is simply leaning on IDG to make the decision Apple wants. Every business does something similar (in spirit, if not in degree) in order to wrangle concessions out of partners. If Apple bears any of the cost of those compensated passes, it most certainly feels it has a right to influence (or even determine) how they are distributed.

So what does Apple (or IDG) get in return for the expense incurred by the compensated passes? Press coverage, of course. This is really just a sanctioned method of buying articles, pictures, hype, and hoopla for Apple, Apple’s products, and the Expo itself. The idea is that there will be content spilling out the other end of the publication pipeline shortly afterward. You’ve heard the phrase before, “the kind of press money can’t buy”. Well, often money can, even the trivial costs (compared to the overall cost of the Expo) of comping a finite number of media representatives.

Now, in a perfect world, neither Apple nor IDG would be able to control the tone of those pieces because reporters are free to make up their own minds about what they see, hear, smell, taste, and feel. We don’t live in a perfect world. In addition to legitimate criticism, Apple attracts its share of the Black Helicopter crowd.

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