An Empty Stage After Steve Jobs

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Apple will certainly miss its creator. Steve Jobs will also be sadly missed by his devoted family members, friends, stockholders and consumers who were so profoundly touched by this visionary in so many ways.

In this time of such reflection, allow me to add my own profession. Speaking for the thousands of my colleagues in the business media, we will sorely miss this very public face of a very private person. Perhaps more than the product, it was the person who drove us to dig into everything Apple, looking for a scoop or an exclusive interview.

But none of us can say that covering Steve Jobs was easy, even before illness caused him to further withdraw from the public eye. He was a driven perfectionist who created a culture of secrecy at Apple, and often saw us as the enemy waiting to pounce on any mis-step. He only tolerated the spotlight when he could use the media to advance his own agenda. Indeed our relationship was decidedly one-sided. He fed us just enough to keep us around for that next big product announcement.

Steve Jobs rarely held a news conference in the traditional sense. When taking the stage, he simply talked over the mass of reporters and cameras to an assembled audience of the Apple faithful. They cheered his every pronouncement, often frustrating to a cynical media eager to report more negative than positive news coming from any event.

I truly do believe Jobs did not have a personal vendetta against the media. Rather, he ruled his empire with a sharp iron fist, just not with a sparkling personality. Many of his employees found him erratic and temperamental. Fortune Magazine once called him one of Silicon Valley’s leading egomaniacs; and in 1993 Jobs made Fortune’s list of America’s Toughest Bosses.

I experienced this reputation first hand when I was given the rare opportunity for a one-on-one interview with the man who never suffered fools gladly. I had been covering Silicon Valley for decades, so was constantly badgering his media folks for a sit-down to air on my syndicated television program, Banmiller on Business, and for CBS News Radio.

Then out of the blue, I was told he would grant me an exclusive ten minute interview immediately after one of his rare public events. In the interest of time, I suggested a sit-down right on the stage, with my friendly competitors at a safe distance.
Unfortunately for me, our crack assignment editor Jay Martinez told me to ask Jobs about some disturbing rumors coming from the Valley. Seems some high tech CEO’s were hiring bodyguards due to recent kidnapping threats. While not wild about asking such a question, it was news. So I simply decided to ask that question last, a technique we employ in case the subject decides to terminate the interview.

And that is exactly what happened. Jobs stood up, said it was a stupid question, and started to take his microphone off. I had the interview in the can, but in television you need “two-shots and reversals” for editing purposes. He knew that, but I pleaded with him to stay seated for another minute, while my cameraman Tony Hodrick did his magic. Steve reluctantly agreed, said not another word, and just scowled at me until we were done.

I assumed the only reason he stayed for the static shots was because my media friends were watching from a distance. Steve was after all a showman. But I am not the only victim of his ire at a hard question. He once famously walked away from a live interview on CNBC after a question he did not like.

Business pundits are already speculating that the passing of Steve Jobs will mean less media attention for Apple. And they may have a point. The chance to hear Jobs deliver the keynote speech was half the draw for every major Apple announcement. New CEO Tim Cook may not expect the same kind of attention, and may need to become more available to the media to get the word out. Will that make us love him more than Jobs? I doubt it.

I was fortunate to conduct the last television interview with Silicon Valley legends Bill Hewlett and David Packard. They were accessible, kind and truly humble about their accomplishments at HP. Unfortunately their once great company is in deep trouble. Jobs may have had the opposite management style that offended so many, but apparently it worked for Apple and helped silence his critics.

Despite being a one-sided love affair the media rarely had a bad word to say against the man who revolutionized technology. Apple will still be Apple without Steve Jobs. But it will never taste as sweet.

(Brian Banmiller is a national business reporter for CBS News Radio, and former Business Editor for KTVU Channel 2 News (the Fox affiliate) in San Francisco. He can be reached at brian@banmilleronbusiness.com)


This article originally published on October 5, 2011.

Brian Banmiller

About Brian

CBS News Radio national business journalist Brian Banmiller has spent more than 40 years in the news industry, covering business, politics and the economy on television, radio and in print. Currently, his “Banmiller on Business” reports are delivered to an audience of millions nationwide.

 
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