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Apple News Prioritizes Human Over Machine, and That’s What Makes the App Unique

Culture

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Now serving 90 million users, Apple News is prioritizing human approach over the much-scrutinized algorithm way of choosing content.

When it comes to deciding on what content users see on a daily basis, Apple News is one of a kind — as Facebook, Twitter and Google are increasingly under fire for using non-transparent algorithms to select content, Apple News comes to the limelight with a fully human-powered team.

In a rare insider look into Apple News’ headquarters by The New York Times, the three-year-old news app’s approach was revealed to the public, as the team shows details on how it picks the top five stories that users see when they open the app, and who are the minds behind these decisions.

The team lead, Lauren Kern, former executive editor of New York Magazine, heads a group of about 30 former journalists from Sydney, London, New York, and Silicon Valley. They read through hundreds of pitches daily and decide on which stories to be featured on the top spots of the app. Kern told the Times that, what sets them different is that they strive to bring in content from both sides of the political debate, and prioritize accuracy over speed.

It’s reported that the app is now used by 90 million people.

Since people started to favor getting news of the day through social media like Facebook, these tech giants are increasingly under scrutiny for their position as middlemen between publishers and news consumers.

As a social media platform that aims to profit, Facebook’s and Google’s algorithms were designed to gain as many clicks as possible, which means that the quality and accuracy of the content is normally not the priority — this throughout the years has led to the spread of fake information and divisive content, which can easily go viral.

In response, Facebook, for example, has taken some steps in attempting to comfort the worried public — also with human help. In September this year, Facebook announced that it has built a “war room” — a team hired specifically to prepare for the U.S. midterm election. Facebook’s head of civic engagement Samidh Chakrabarti told NBC News that its staff focuses on combating foreign interference, blocking and removing fake accounts, slowing the spread of misinformation and bring transparency to political ads on the platform.

In a disturbed world where there’s either technology or human approach, Apple News decides that they can co-exist. Kern told the Times that this is her way of saving journalism. “There is this deep understanding that a thriving free press is critical for an informed public, and an informed public is critical for a functioning democracy, and that Apple News can play a part in that,” Kern said.

However, would publishers be keen on the idea of partnering with Apple News for its civic approach? Hard to say. According to the Times, some are concerned that because Apple News takes 30 percent of subscription revenues, much higher than Facebook and Google, and also because Apple News users typically read within its own app, Apple will take away more revenues and data from customers. In response, Apple says that what it’s most interested in helping publishers sell more subscriptions.

So now it’s up to publishers and customers to decide on whether Apple News’ effort is appreciated. For publishers, will this more authentic, less machine disturbed, human-led new content app help them generate more revenues? And for customers, will content hand-picked by 30 seasoned journalists be less biased than the algorithms they’ve long felt disappointed at? We will see.

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