See an update on this post here.
I recently took part in an online discussion about the relative value of traditional media versus social media in a public relations campaign. One commenter, touting the continued influence of traditional media, noted the role that Consumer Reports played in forcing Apple to fess up to problems with the iPhone 4's exterior antenna.
To me, that story is less about Consumer Reports's media platform than it is about the power of the magazine's brand. People trust Consumer Reports as the source of unbiased, independent evaluation of a range of products. When the magazine declined to give iPhone 4 its recommendation, Apple had no grounds to challenge the magazine's credibility.
What Consumer Reports gives its readers is hard for anyone else to replicate, and here's where the old media/new media debate becomes relevant. The service Consumer Reports provides can't be crowdsourced: If you want to buy a computer, you might be able to find at least a dozen online reviews for each model you are considering -- but it's unlikely any of those people have tested every model like CR does.
True, other journalists and publications provide product reviews, but my sense is that the audience for CR, at least when it comes to digital devices, are the late adopters. In the case of the iPhone 4, these are the people least likely to overlook poor phone reception in favor of all the iPhone's bells and whistles. You know, the people who actually buy a mobile phone for the phone. These are consumers Apple needs if it wants to continue to rule the market, and not slip back into being a niche brand with a cult following.