It’s Not News, It’s iPhone 3G | iLounge Article


It’s Not News, It’s iPhone 3G

Last night ended with a conversation much like ones we’ve been having for the past two months: the broad topic was the iPhone 3G, and the specific topic was a report that 91% of Japanese consumers were not interested in buying the device. After three minutes of discussion, we decided not to run this report—a decision we’ve made quite a few times over the past two months—and with that, we called it a night. The consequence was that our news column wasn’t as packed with fresh content, but we felt that we’d made the right choice.

You might be asking yourself why we wouldn’t want to run just about any story with the words “iPhone 3G” in the title. After all, it’s obvious that our readers are interested in the device—64% of the people responding to a recent iLounge poll said that they were planning to buy one—and of course, more iPhone 3G stories equal more page views, right?

Our reasoning was very simple: the story, like many others we’ve passed on, was ridiculous. Amongst other red flags, the survey was taken days before the iPhone 3G was even announced. It was based upon only 402 participants. And it was limited to a specific demographic (20-49 year old Internet users). In other words, when 9% of respondents said that they planned to purchase something, they were being asked about a device they didn’t know about, and a total of 36 people said yes.

What was fascinating to us was the way that this survey story was processed and regurgitated elsewhere. Some repeated the original story’s negative conclusion verbatim: “91% of Japanese will not buy the iPhone.” Others tried to spin the findings in a positive way, claiming that the survey meant that 9% of Japanese will buy the iPhone. Given Japan’s population of 127 million people and 103 million mobile phone subscribers, the survey supposedly revealed to certain readers that 9.3 million of the country’s mobile phone subscribers were planning to buy iPhones. All this, based upon 36 people saying yes.

While surveys are unquestionably useful, they require fairly large sample sizes in order to be accurate. To poll the entire Japanese mobile phone user base with 99% confidence, with a desired accuracy of plus or minus 3%, you’d need to sample around 1,850 people. Increasing the accuracy to plus or minus 2%, you’d need to sample 4,160 people. The Japanese iPhone survey didn’t even come close to those numbers, nor did it attempt to broadly sample the country’s population. Something’s fishy when an iLounge survey has a sample size of over 6,000 people and a purported survey of the entire country of Japan has only 402.

There is, of course, an standard excuse of sorts for publishing a “story” like this: “Who really knows whether it’s right or wrong? It’s just one more piece of possible information that might potentially lead to some greater understanding.” In a word, that’s irresponsible. The old “throw everything against the wall and see what sticks” trick only increases the amount of junk that’s out there—we’d dare say that it’s about as contrary to Apple’s approach to doing things as is possible.

For that reason, we’ll skip the lengthy explanation of why we didn’t post all of the phony iPhone 3G images that appeared across the Internet in the runup to the product’s debut. The short, simple answer is that we knew they were fakes and didn’t want to waste your time with them. The only ones we ran, along with explanatory text, were the real things. We knew it would have been fun to discuss all the things that people hoped would make it into the device: that’s why we held a concept contest to let readers express their creativity. We would never have considered posting those images, even with snarky “they’re probably fake” caveats, as potentially legitimate.

As these examples hopefully illustrate, our primary motivation is to look after our readers’ best interests. Our editors aren’t paid based on the number of stories we write or the number of page views articles generate; similarly, as mentioned before, we have no tie to Apple or other companies, and we have no hidden motivation to hype up their new products. Consequently, we’re not incented to lure you into reading articles by using misleading headlines, string you along with images that generate false hopes, or try to wrap you up in the hype that some companies seem hellbent on artificially creating. Instead, our goal is to equip you every day with accurate, useful information that makes your iPod, iPhone, and iTunes experiences better—the wheat, without the chaff. Over the past six and a half years, we’ve determined that filtering out junk is as important as publishing what’s useful, a realization that led us two years ago to summarize our approach in a simple maxim, “if it’s not on iLounge, there’s a reason.” Heading into coverage of the iPhone 3G and future iPods, we’ll continue to exercise the same restraint that has been the hallmark of our previous work: you can rest assured that you’ll get the real story, without all the filler, right here.

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Not reporting rumors is one thing, but not reporting on that Japanese survey, knowing the additional information that you knew, is something quite different.  Any site can regurgitate news.  On the other hand, analyzing news and placing it in proper context is something else.  If iLounge had posted an article about the Japanese survey, but with the additional points about how it was done, number/type of respondents, relevancy, etc., that would have made a great article, and increased iLounge’s relevancy and usefulness.

If the people at iLounge feel overworked and overburdened, I can’t offer solace.  The old maxim, “publish or perish”, is still in force.  If you feel that people are leaving iLounge to read iPhone news on other sites, because they have “more news” (regardless of quality), posting an editorial like this probably isn’t going to help.

Posted by Kevin42 in East Amherst, NY, USA on June 19, 2008 at 11:30 AM (CDT)


The exact analysis you’ve mentioned is contained above. Note that it’s not in our “news” section, but in our “editorials” section.

No one feels overworked or overburdened, or that we’re losing readers (we’re not, by any measure). The point of the editorial was very clear: we don’t publish crap. So this isn’t about “publish or perish;” it’s about “garbage in, garbage out.” The solution is to stop treating every piece of garbage content—including meaningless surveys and fake images—as if it deserves attention. It doesn’t.

Posted by Jeremy Horwitz in East Amherst, NY, USA on June 19, 2008 at 11:44 AM (CDT)


You know, I’d doubt you’ll get many comments on this because it doesn’t contain a bunch of hype and speculation. But I just wanted to say thank you for your ethics.

Posted by howlongtoretire in East Amherst, NY, USA on June 19, 2008 at 12:24 PM (CDT)



Thanks for the very insightful editorial! I appreciate when news sources operate as gatekeepers rather than catch-all venues. The extra research you put into your editorial decisions shines, and that’s why I bother paying attention to your RSS feed at all. As a former communication grad student, I conquer with your analysis of the Japanese survey and treasure your decision to not waste my limited news surveying time with this biased invalid study.

Actually, is was your astute coverage of the original iPhone that encouraged me to hold back my gratification for an iPod nano in 2006. What I really desired then was an all-in-one device tying the ease of the iPod to the reliability of the Mac. I hadn’t imagined that Apple was so close to releasing such a device, and it was the cautiously hopeful coverage of iLounge that expanded my imagination and enabled more self-control.

I purchased an 8GB iPhone 5 days after release and haven’t regretted the decision since. Please continue the never-ceasing task of sifting the wheat from the chaff. While some vocal news junkies might want ever rumor thrown out to them, thank you for serving the less-noisy but equally concerned demographic of cautiously-hopeful enthusiasts such as myself. To me, quality will always trump quantity, otherwise I would look elsewhere for a better filter.

Cheers, Ztraveler

Posted by Matt Zerrip in East Amherst, NY, USA on June 19, 2008 at 3:42 PM (CDT)


Maybe when something like this happens again you can run a news article called “Japanese hold stupid iPhone 3G survey”. And then make explanation of the flaws of the survey as you did above the main part of the story. That way you inform your readers and prevent them from picking up the same thing out of context somewhere else.

Posted by Ericc B in East Amherst, NY, USA on June 20, 2008 at 5:30 AM (CDT)


Thank you for the forthright attitude, Jeremy.

I would like to add my agreement that there is nothing wrong in showing editorial stewardship, even when it might seem like protective favoritism to the brand names around which this site revolves. I believe that far too often readers suffer through conceited polls and articles meant to psy-ops-like undermine some product, issue, or candidate simply because it seems “fair and balanced” to give equal time to dissenting opinions. So, just like I would be dismayed if National Geographic gave equal time to INtelligent Design articles, I would be dismayed if iLounge inundated us with every criticism of Apple and the iPhone that come unscrupulous sources. I’m grateful that you are thoughtful about your posts and the impact they have on the community at large.

Posted by Michael G. in East Amherst, NY, USA on June 20, 2008 at 10:01 AM (CDT)


Separating the “crap” from real stories is what trusted news organizations do. If I want every story about iPhone (real or not) I can do a Google search.
The years have proven iLounge to be honest and diligent in your news presentations. Hence, this site is a daily read for me and I appreciate the hard work brought by the staff at iLounge…

Posted by RNB in East Amherst, NY, USA on June 20, 2008 at 11:32 AM (CDT)


You guys (and gals?) rock. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. I recommend this site to everyone of our members at work that want an honest opinion of all things iPod. Keep up the good work!

Posted by BlueHUE in East Amherst, NY, USA on June 20, 2008 at 4:38 PM (CDT)


I for one (or more) am tired of being “TMZ’d” into thinking crap is news.
Crap is crap.
Just because people expect fresh content every 9-seconds on the internet doesn’t mean you need to publish crap.
I keep visiting - and have been visiting - since day-one.
The first post was a joke.

Posted by ScottB in East Amherst, NY, USA on June 20, 2008 at 5:19 PM (CDT)

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