Petty Fireball | Localtype

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Petty Fireball

Originally written on: December 16, 2007 at 7:46 pm

Last Updated: December 16, 2007 at 7:46 pm


John Gruber, once programmer for BareBones, and now full-time blogger has once again taken another writer to task for writing a blatantly inaccurate Apple article. I want to root for Gruber. I am glad that someone is calling “journalists” out for not actually doing research, or worse, doing the research and misrepresenting facts. Unfortunately Gruber tends to not only point out factual inaccuracies, he often falls into the trap of attacking personal style. In his current article, Gruber picks apart Adam L. Penenberg’s cover story “All Eyes on Apple: Will the gray light of January cool the world’s hottest company?”. A lot of what Gruber writes is true. He’s pointing out factual inaccuracies in the article, and correcting them. In several places, however, he crosses the line into petty stylistic argument, diluting his original intent. There are several examples:

Adam L. Penenberg: Yet this is also a dangerous moment for Apple. In a way the company has never seen, the barbarians are massing at the gates.

John Gruber: ‘Never’ is a long time ago, but I’m sure that’s exactly the case and isn’t in the least bit an exaggeration just to frame the entire piece in epic terms.

Right here, John makes his first petty remark. “Never” in this case doesn’t refer to time immemorial, but rather “the life of Apple, Inc (nee Apple Computer, Inc). John calls him out for exaggeration, but not only does John do the same, but also frames a straw man argument.

ALP: From hardware to software to services, major competitors with serious R&D and marketing budgets are laying siege to the House of Jobs.

JG: Calling Apple the “House of Jobs”, or some such, is like using verbs other than said when writing dialogue. Just use “said”, and just call Apple “Apple”. A good rule of thumb, by the way, is that the more a writer attributes the actions of Apple, an enormous corporation with thousands of talented employees, to Steve Jobs, who is just one man and neither an engineer nor a designer, the more likely the writer is an idiot, a hack, or both.

This is just blatantly petty. These words are stylistic choice on behalf of the writer. In the original article, John links to an article in the New York Times written by Elmore Leonard from 2001 which can basically be summed up as “If you want to be a good writer, don’t use cliches”. There are times to use verbs other than “said” to continue dialogue, and there are times not to. I think a very important point that John is missing is while Apple is a company filled with thousands of employees, in the end, all products get the personal approval of Steve. “House of Steve” doesn’t imply that he’s the only one in the house. He is, however, Master of that house. There are many Awesome Products of Awesomely Awesome Awesomeness inside Apple that never saw the light of day just because Steve didn’t like it. Yes, it takes an army to make a product, but Steve is the gate keeper. Calling ALP by inference an “idiot, hack, or both” is insulting, and a personal attack. JG should keep in mind ALP is a published writer with an ongoing contract, and not a blogger and T-shirt salesman.

ALP: It’s weeks before Christmas, and all through the house, there’s an iPhone, a touch screen, and no need for a mouse. But Jobs, the “brilliant,” “visionary” “genius” with a knack for creating “insanely great” consumer products, may well be wondering whether next year will be different. Merry Christmas, Steve. Enjoy it while it lasts.

JG: Those unattributed quotes lead me to suspect Penenberg is an “untalented” “hack” and that Fast Company’s “copy editing” amounts to little more than right-clicking the green squiggly grammar-checker underlines in Microsoft Word. Seriously, what’s up with the quotes?

Again, this is a stylistic thing, and JG is creating another straw-man to knock down. If you read any interview or story about Steve Jobs, you will almost-always see those words used. They now fall into the category of “common knowledge” and no longer require attribution. Again, JG attacks the man, personally, as well as the publication. Attack the content. Don’t attack the person. Personally, I think all the quotes make that particular paragraph difficult to read, but again, it’s a style thing. I got over it.

ALP: In an age increasingly defined by interoperability and technical collaboration, Jobs still refuses to license Apple’s operating system.

JG: Because there are so many companies making so much money “licensing their operating system”, other than Microsoft. Worked out great for Apple the last time they tried it a decade ago, and it’s worked out great for Palm now, right?
(Note also that all these decisions are, again, solely attributed to Jobs’s personal whim, rather than to Apple as a company.)

JG has a very valid point, although the point is actually inferred, rather than explicitly stated. I’m ok with that, although his comment in parenthesis is again based on a straw-man. ALP Never says these decisions are solely made via Steve’s personal whim. Of course there are many factors involved in the decisions of the company, but Steve is the final arbiter. It just so happens that Steve’s “whim” is often in Apple’s best interest, although that hasn’t always been the case.

ALP: Sprint has a touch-screen phone that runs “thousands” of third-party applications

JG: And they’re all great.

JG’s comment is pure snark. At least the phone from Sprint has the possibility of having good apps. I’d even go so far as to say that JG implies that all the applications on the iPhone are great. I would differ with that assessment.

John, I have been following your writing since the beginning of DF. I know you’re capable of good writing. Making these petty arguments only brings you down. Stick with the content, not the person. Don’t play “stupid” when a writer uses hyperbole. Allow for stylistic writing that differs from your own. You’ll get more respect from your readers, and your peers.




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