apple events

Covering Apple's media events is increasingly strange. 

The company's role in global affairs is vastly different to where it was in 2013, when I first started working as a technology reporter. Back then, you could still – just – treat an Apple keynote as a big fun consumer event. Yes, careers were made or ruined on the back of what happened on stage, but fundamentally, the show was about seeing the shiny things that people would have in their pockets in a few week's time. 

Now, while the company would clearly like to maintain some of that vibe, the reality is very different. The areas of Apple's business that it doesn't talk about on stage cast a huge shadow over the fun tech launch it wants to host, and that was as true on Monday, when it held the keynote speech at its Worldwide Developer's Conference, as it is any other event.

Nowhere was it mentioned that Apple was in the middle of a drawn out war with regulators on two continents over whether it is abusing its power; nowhere did Apple acknowledge that the same cosy relationship with the Chinese government that keeps sales high and justifies including new features like Chinese handwriting recognition and cycling directions in Beijing also requires the company to remove games not approved for sale and to block podcast apps which haven't implemented censorship protocols.

We can't expect Apple to bring those things up – well, actually, we could, and the low expectations of corporations under capitalism is one of the foundational sins of our current world, but that's for another newsletter – but it certainly casts a pall over any attempt to cover the event as it once was.

Equally, though, the position of technology in the newsroom has changed. The beat has shifted from being a side-show, justified because newspapers were online and nerds were online so we may as well write about what the nerds care about, to becoming a core part of the daily news agenda, as Facebook, Google and, yes, Apple, make decisions that have a measurable impact on "real" news.

Sometimes, that shift is beneficial to the coverage. Tech teams around the world have more resources, attention and sway within their organisations than they did a decade ago, and even the companies and sectors we cover are more likely to treat us as real reporters and less likely to expect us to rewrite their positive press releases and call it a day.

Other times, it throws up tricky questions. What is the position of an Apple event in this new world where tech matters? On the one hand, it's the single biggest concentration of news about the biggest company in the world, and will have ramifications that spread across business, politics and the media – at least til the next one. On the other hand… it's still, sort of, a silly consumer event. A good analyst can explain why it matters that Apple is switching from Intel to its own silicon, but outside of specialist media, what most readers care about is that their Apple Watches will soon have sleep tracking.

That means these big, glamorous events don't fit comfortably in the new way of doing things, or the old. We can't put on our "I ❤️ tech" hats and get excited about new features, but nor can we really cover them through the lens of what ~matters~ about technology. Sometimes, we end up doing the worst of both worlds, trying to write 1,200 words about an event that is fundamentally a press conference for a new phone through the lens of what it means for Donald Trump's re-election.

I still enjoy live-blogging the shows, as I did on Monday; even though they are live-streamed for the faithful, it's one of the rare events that gathers enough passing interest from people who want to know what's happening but don't want to sit down and watch it that it's worth covering. This week's was actually incredibly hard work, less because of anything I've discussed above and more because, as the first ever pre-recorded WWDC, everything moved a lot faster. I simply couldn't type quick enough.

(If you do any sort of analysis of the media, please remember that incredibly banal things like "I couldn't type quick enough" actually shape an enormous amount of coverage. Why is Interviewee A quoted more than Interviewee B in this piece? Is it an example of bias on the part of the reporter? Maybe. More likely, Interviewee A had a bad phone line and a lot of what they said was unclear.)

At the Guardian, we've got a top level split in tech coverage for this reason. I'm the UK technology editor, and my colleague Samuel Gibbs is the consumer technology editor. In the long term, I think that will shake out similar to a few other markets – cars being the example I've always looked to. No-one really expects the reporter who covers Volkswagen's attempts to boost sales of its electric cars to also be the one who reviews the latest Hyundai hatchback, and already that split is there for technology. 

But tech matters more than cars; an Apple event is as though VW held press events where it shows off new cars, and also announces the route of some new motorways, while setting rules that dictate what bicycles will look like for the next five years. I think it will never sit comfortably in a newsroom. But I hope I'll always get a little bit of joy from covering it.