Which of These Things Is Not Like The Other?

It’s Friday, so let’s play a game. It’s called “Press Release or News Story?” The rules are simple: We print two pieces of writing, and you tell us which one is the press release and which the news story. The topic is the new Mac operating system, “Tiger.”

Here we go:

Bachelor number one:

Tired of waiting while your computer slowly scours its hard drive for a document you stashed somewhere six months ago?

Sick of having to change how you work to conform with the computer’s rigid way of organizing files?

Bored with the flat look of the desktop’s graphics?

If you have a Macintosh computer, or plan to buy one, those issues have been tackled. They’re addressed in the latest update of Mac OS X, dubbed “Tiger,” which goes on sale Friday.

Despite a much smaller user base, Mac OS X has been steps ahead of Microsoft’s Windows on key fronts since its first release in 2001.

It’s got more advanced and polished graphics. It’s less prone to malicious attacks. And Macs look better than nearly all Windows PCs.

And number two:

Tiger delivers more than 200 new features and innovations including Spotlight, a revolutionary desktop search technology that lets users instantly find anything stored on their Mac, including documents, emails, contacts and images; and Dashboard, a new way to instantly access important information like weather forecasts and stock quotes, using a dazzling new class of applications called widgets.

Apple will also release Mac OS X Server version 10.4 “Tiger” at the same time. Based on the same core technology as the desktop operating system, Tiger Server integrates over 100 leading open source projects and standards-based applications with easy-to-use management tools that make it easy to deploy for Mac, Windows and Linux clients.

Figure it out? We know what you’re thinking: It’s a trick. They’re both press releases. But no: Number one, amazingly, is an actual story. From the Associated Press, no less. As you can tell, it’s an absolute love letter, apparently written by an Apple aficionado. Consider these lines: “But Tiger is about a lot more than look and feel”; “It’s visually stunning”; “The onus is now on Bill Gates & Co. to see if it can one-up Steve Jobs’ shop.” It’s like that most of the way through.

Contrast the AP fluff-job to the New York Times’ excellent coverage of Tiger, which is far more balanced. Read that piece, which is really a review, and you realize the AP could have said a number of things about the new product, both positive and negative. Instead it gave Apple a valentine: a piece of nearly uncritical PR the company didn’t even have to pay for. The company must be thrilled. Those of us who value journalism, however, think different.

Brian Montopoli

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Brian Montopoli is a writer at CJR Daily.