Las Vegas Sun

October 25, 2014

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WHERE I STAND:

Why news industry is indebted to Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs Shrine at Las Vegas Apple Store

A small shrine to Steve Jobs is displayed in the window of the Apple Store in Town Square Las Vegas Friday, October 7, 2011. Launch slideshow »

Steve Jobs changed my life.

There is no question the world lost one of its brightest stars last week when Mr. Jobs died at just 56 years of age. Whatever has been written about him and whatever praise has been heaped upon him by the world’s social, technological and political leaders has, I am certain, been amply justified. He was one of those rare individuals who did it his way, which turned out to be the right way for many millions of people around the globe.

I have to confess — only to those of you who don’t know me — that I am not much of a technophile. I am nowhere near an early adopter and, in most cases, I am one of the last people to the technological table.

That doesn’t mean I don’t marvel at and appreciate the latest inventions and the newest designs that change our lives. I do. It is more the fact that I don’t really want to change what works for me, so reading new manuals, watching DVDs and listening to MP3s that explain the latest and greatest gadgets — which take away from my reading or movie-watching time — are not that appealing.

As a consequence, even when I purchase the must-have technology of the month, I rarely appreciate what it does nor do I get the enjoyment that it was intended to confer because I really don’t understand what I am supposed to do with it in the first place. Oh, to be 17 years old again. The exception to that, which has ruled my life for so long, was the cellphone in the mid-1980s. It completely changed my life. It freed me from my office and allowed me to be in contact with whomever I wanted, whenever I wanted to talk to them. What a miracle!

Enter Mr. Jobs, 2010.

In the middle of the global economic meltdown and the consequent depressing recession that has challenged the most resilient of Las Vegas companies, the media industry in which I have played a small part for the past 45 years was devastated. Not only did advertisers stop advertising because there were no consumers on the other end, but the digital revolution so flummoxed news and information providers that they have yet to right themselves in this fast-changing world.

The questions loom large and they all have to do with how, why and when news consumers will actually pay for that which they now believe should be free. Those of us who understand content and its essential role in our democracy have been steadfast — I didn’t say right — in our belief that at some point we will figure out how to provide expensive, quality content to people who demand it for a price that makes everyone happy. That point has not yet come.

But, what Steve Jobs did last year with his brilliant new entry into the Apple stable of incredible products was give the news industry a much clearer picture — perhaps for the first time since the bottom fell out — of how this process was going to play out.

For it was the entrance of the iPad that has done for media what the cellphone 25 years earlier did for verbal communication. It has changed forever the way we will consume information. I know that is true because it not only changed the way I consume the news but it has also won over one of the most hard-core newspaper readers I know, my wife, Myra.

If the two of us, who, despite how hard we try are not the ideal demographic for Madison Avenue marketers, can revel in the ease with which we use the iPad — or any other similar tablet — then it is abundantly clear that the coming generations will use the iPad as a starting point for all they do in the world of media consumption.

And that knowledge has changed the way I think about life in the coming years. Where once I was like every other newspaper publisher — confused and confounded about the prospect of printing news on paper when our readers were telling us they didn’t want it — I am now energized by the understanding that there is a new way of providing information essential for our democracy to people in vital need of it.

There will, thankfully, be a transition time to be sure, but it is certain that there is a future for news that just a couple of years ago was expressed more in doubts than in any assurance that what we had been used to for a few generations might no longer be. In short, there is good reason to believe that news and the ability to deliver it to citizens who need credible, relevant information will continue to be a vital part of this democratic experiment called the United States.

There has been much written about Steve Jobs and how he changed the world by providing the kind of high-quality, technological advances that bettered our lives in ways we couldn’t fathom before he did so.

But, in the matter of the people and the way they get their news, I am not sure that even Mr. Jobs knew how important his invention might be. He proved over and over again that quality matters greatly to people — just as the news industry insists that quality — meaning credible — information is crucial to a functioning democracy.

My life didn’t change with an iPod that could play music. It certainly didn’t change with a Mac computer that more times than not I had problems turning on. Nor did it change with an iPhone, which was just another, albeit fancier and more elegant, version of the Motorola brick I used to carry around 25 years ago.

But my life and my life’s work did change with the introduction of that iPad. That sleek-looking, powerfully acting newspaper vendor of tomorrow that does so much of what I want it to do today.

So, thank you Mr. Jobs for being the creative, innovative genius that you were. My life isn’t the only one you changed. There are millions and millions of us all over the world.

And we should all say, thank you!

Brian Greenspun is publisher and editor of the Las Vegas Sun.