Hot Topic, Media, Public Relations

Jobs vs. The College Student

By now, you probably have heard and read about the controversy that surrounds Apple CEO Steve Jobs and the email exchange he recently had with a New York college student.  To summarize: journalism student Chelsea Kate Issacs originally called Apple’s media relations department to ask about iPads being used in an academic setting. She didn’t get a response, so she wrote Jobs.  His first reply?

“Our goals do not include helping you get a good grade. Sorry.”

After another exchange between Issacs and Jobs, the Apple CEO finally said this to her:

“Please leave us alone.”

At first glance, this is a PR problem for Jobs and Apple. You have the CEO telling a young college student to basically buzz off.  Then, you have Apple’s media relations office ignoring her as well.  Whether you are a Fortune 500 company or a business of five people, not answering an inquiry is flat out wrong.

However, I take issue with the student as well.  I don’t have a problem with her inquiring for a comment.  I may seem nitpicky here, but my issue is with Ms. Issacs saying, “The completion of this article is crucial to my grade in the class, and it may potentially get published in our university’s newspaper…”

Why mention the grade part? Jobs is right.  It’s not Apple’s responsibility to help her get an “A.” And it “may potentially” get published? If you are a journalism student, never say potentially.  For example, say “I’m working on a story on (insert subject) for this week’s edition of the (newspaper name).”

I’ll let you read the actual emails over at Gawker.

Ms. Issacs was annoyed at the fact that Jobs was rude in his replies.  She’s right. He acted like a world class jerk. And Apple’s media relations should have had a statement at the ready for inquiries like this. But, let’s be honest.  We’ve all heard that Jobs isn’t exactly the warm and fuzzy type.  That’s not an excuse, though.

When I read the mails from Ms. Issacs, I detected some snark and, honestly, desperation.  This is a great lesson for any young journalism student.  Don’t make it seem like you are begging and never get testy with a potential interviewee.  The chances of getting the response you want will drop.

Of course, the media is giving Jobs the business.  As a PR person, it annoys me that he wouldn’t have the sense to, at least, call his own media relations department and ask them for a short response. And who’s running Apple’s media relations?

But, Ms. Issacs should also have some criticism. Steve Jobs was rude to you.  It stinks and isn’t acceptable.  But going email-to-email with him solves nothing.  A journalist should never make themselves the story.

What are your thoughts on Jobs’ responses? And is the student in the wrong as well? Leave your comments below.

She is

19 thoughts on “Jobs vs. The College Student”

  1. I agree with you Jason, both Apple and Ms. Issacs should have used handled themselves better.

    As someone who receives inquiries, I think it is extremely important to respond to them in a timely manner. Even if I do not have an immediate answer I make sure to let someone know that I am working on finding it for them.

    1. Thanks for the reply, Kelly. It’s one of the principles of PR to answer our publics. You may not have the answer right there, but working on it shows good customer service.
      That’s why you are good at what you do! 🙂

  2. I think students now think it’s perfectly acceptable to fire off an email for information, and if anything less than 100% of what they asked for isn’t provided, and better yet they detect the slightest attitude, it’s fodder for the blogs.

    I graduated college in 2005
    That wasn’t that long ago.
    But even then I remember having to go to the library to pull research for something.
    I didn’t fire off an e-mail and expect somebody to do it for me. Or threaten/entice/however you want to spin it, the person to give me an answer by saying I was working on a story.

    I think all too often people look for what they can bring down rather than applaud — think of how quickly you get home and tear off a negative restaurant review. When was the last time you raced home to praise a restaurant online?

    Steve Jobs doesn’t have to respond at all. But he does. Most people in his position wouldn’t and don’t. That should be applauded.

    1. We have the same ethics, Keith. Research, research, research! I’m not saying Ms. Issacs wasn’t doing that, but in a number of people I talked with after I posted this, they all said the same thing. Why is your story based on one quote?
      Good point about criticism. I think we need to praise a company when they do something well. As you know though, we hear the bad way before the good.
      Thanks for reading and commenting.

  3. Great post J — I like Steve more now than before because of this exchange. If the journalism student’s got that thin of a skin (student approaches Apple and Apple CEO to & gets no response…) she’ll have a very tough time in the real world of journalism where she’ll get ignored or ‘handled’ by lesser companies and people. The opposite of one of my own favorite expressions — “I’ve been called worse, by better…”

    1. Fine point on the thin skin, Cog. You and I both know that you need to be tougher, even as a young journo. Tim’s comment below also is worthy of noting. She got a reply, albeit a rough one, from a major CEO. That’s something she should be hanging on her hat, not the fact that Jobs was a nitwit.

  4. Hey Jason:

    Great column!

    One extra point to throw out there, for whatever it’s worth:

    While Jobs was kind of jerky in his response, what we should consider is that this student got the top dog to respond to her.

    Not usually the case with a mega-company like that.

    While she probably hoped for a better response — and maybe he is better with others that he has responded to — I find solace in this corporate world that a guy like Jobs would reply, as himself, in his words. For better or worse…

    This may have been the time for PR to step in and answer, initially, or do damage control, but if he’s willing to answer queries a few times a week, that’s pretty cool in my book.

    Even at the small community newspaper level where I’m at, you wouldn’t believe the shock I get from people when I answer their call, return an e-mail, or invite them in.

    So I guess my point is the accessibility in this example — while not the most ideal response — is something to note.

    Good work


    1. Tim,
      Thanks so much for stopping by. Glad to have the a journalist’s point of view. As I mentioned to Cog above (and as you know), think skin is important. We’ve all been hung up on or had doors slammed in our faces when chasing stories. It’s not fun.
      You are right, she got Jobs to reply to her. He was accessible… and that’s an achievement for a young student, let alone a journalist.

  5. I agree that both are definitely in the wrong. Jobs’ reply didn’t shock me, because as you said he’s not known for his kind-hearted personality. As a student myself I’m very disappointed in the way Isaacs handled herself. Of course it would have been great if the media relations team responded to (or simply acknowledge) her email, but that didn’t happen. Instead of trying a different approach she acted as though she was entitled to an answer, and that Jobs owed her something. He doesn’t. Her lack of creativity, attempted guilt trip, and impatience are the types of behavior that help create a negative Gen Y stigma.

    I’m also really bothered by her lack of respect towards Jobs. Whether or not we like it, there is a hierarchy in the professional world that needs to be respected. The more I think about it the more ridiculous and foolish I think she was to send a demanding email to such a powerful business man. His responses were rude and inexcusable, but his accomplishments can’t be denied. As a journalism student she should know how to approach powerful people. Yes, it’s important to stand up for yourself, but there is a way to do that in which it will garner respect from others, including the person in the position of power.

    1. Lindsey,
      I’m thrilled to have a student’s perspective here. How would you have handled this story, if you were the one assigned it. I’m interested in your thoughts.

  6. I actually have more of a problem with Ms. Issacs than with Jobs, even though his response was ridiculous, the fact that she got his email address and then had the audacity to try and email him directly, she is lucky to have even gotten a snarky response.

    My issue is with her insolence and sense of entitlement in her emails back and forth. This young woman suffers from a problem which I currently see in a great deal of younger Americans. I have friends in jobs of many walks of life from business, to entertainment, to college professors. Every one of them can agree that a good number of young Americans outright expect things to be handed to them. and when it doesn’t they send out emails, similar to Ms. Issacs’, or they call and complain or better yet, as I have heard from very recently, they have their parents call and complain for them about their college grades.

    Maybe I am old fashioned, and I will agree that neither party was respectful, but Ms. Issacs will hopefully prove to be a great example for others in the futuer on how to approach a business for journalistic inquiries.

    There is a site designed to assist aspiring and current journalism students called Ourblook. They offer journalism students access to information, job tools, and working professional journalists through the OurBlook University Partnership Program.

  7. I can sympathize with Ms. Isaacs, since I’m going through the same thing in J-school in my reporting class, but that’s not how you should act with a source. Her email was way too long, number one. She needed to be direct with her issue in order to be taken seriously. She should not have kept up the dialogue with Jobs; instead, she should have resumed contact with Apple’s media relations department. That’s supposed to be their job. Number two, Ms. Isaacs is not a freshman. She should know better than to expect someone like Jobs to pity her. Sources help you if you deserve it. Jobs doesn’t care about a LIU student’s article that “may potentially” be published. She needs to improve her communication skills if she wants to get anywhere in the field.

    However, I still think Apple’s media relations department should have done a better job. They definitely need a statement ready regarding iPads being used in education. The fact that this debate needed to be taken to Jobs is embarrassing.

    This is a thought-provoking subject. Great reading others’ opinions on it.

    1. Hi Sara,
      Exactly what I was looking for… since you are currently in school. It’s a teachable moment for aspiring journalists AND PR pros.
      I’m glad to have had your comments!
      All the best!

  8. Very nice post Jason. While Mr. Jobs and Ms. Isaacs both had their faults in this scenario, what screams out at me is that the fact Ms. Isaacs clearly would like to be taken as a serious journalist, but then mentions grades and schools. IMO her approach should have been (while being as professional as possible): I’m a journalist working on a story about XYZ, can you help me?

    Moreover, if she seriously expected a response from Steve, she should have avoided the long-winded complaints about grades and Apple’s media relations and simply said “here are my 3 questions, would you be able to provide any information regarding them?”

    Isn’t the saying “You get more bees with honey than you do with vinegar?”

  9. It’s disappointing that the media relations dept. didn’t throw the kid a bone, I mean it doesn’t take much to get published in a university paper. They could have sent her a backgrounder or holding statement. Then again, she could have tracked down some educational app developers. I find it hard to believe her angle was so narrow that only Apple could answer them.

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