Apple News Relies on Human Curation to Keep Things Manageable

Apple News relies on human curation

Apple News has been a staple on iOS devices, insofar that it’s a preinstalled app, for several years now.

And while the service may be a go-to option for some users, the inner-workings of the platform have been a sort of mystery. When it launched, Apple News primarily did what other RSS readers did: showed stories from publications that the individual wanted to see. Nothing more and nothing less, and, as such, News didn’t really get a lot of attention. But Apple saw a pivot point just a few months after Apple News launched, and it jumped at the chance.

Apple News is no longer curated by a simple algorithm running in the background, automatically selecting stories based solely on the publications you’ve selected as the ones you want to see content from. While that option of self-curation is still present, Apple saw a way it could differentiate from the other news services out there and went for it: Apple News is now curated by humans, rather than an algorithm.

Facebook and Google grew into go-to sources for a lot of people digesting their news on a daily basis, but recent events in the United States, and globally, have shown that the platforms were not doing enough to prevent sensationalist and misleading articles from landing on their portals. Apple sees this as a way to not only gain readership’s attention, but their trust as well.

The New York Times has a nice article on the matter, outlining just how important Apple News is to the company now, the moves it has made in the past to put it in the position it is in now, and where it’s going next. It’s safe to say that the people working on Apple News see it as an important element of the iOS ecosystem, but also journalism in general. Plainly speaking, they are taking it very seriously.

Apple News visitors will see the human curation right on the front screen of the app. That section of the service is where the curators show the stories that they have chosen to present to readers. These stories will be from a variety of different sources, and as outlined in the interviews within this report, the journalists choosing the stories are looking for in-depth reporting and context, aiming to serve as much information as possible to support an informed public.

Editor-in-Chief of Apple News, Lauren Kern, left New York Magazine to lead the Apple News team, and sees the importance of Apple News:

“Apple’s executives grandly proclaim that they want to help save 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,’ Ms. Kern said.”

The transition to human curation has led to some interesting decisions about what to cover. The interviews here do not go into detail about the individual journalists choosing the story, but it does indicate that they are more than willing to skip some major stories that are getting wildly shared across other platforms, simply because they have the ability to skip those types of stories if they do not pass the “smell test”. In one example, Apple News curators skipped over a story that related to the Robert Mueller investigation, which was initially published by ABC News.

Of course, it’s the news, and bias is a real thing that people are worried about (either seriously or not). The interview doesn’t get into the personal politics of each journalist working on Apple News, but Kern firmly believes that the only way to beat bias is to use humans:

“Ms. Kern criticized the argument that algorithms are the sole way to avoid prejudice because bias can be baked into the algorithm’s code, such as whether it labels news organizations liberal or conservative. She argued that humans — with all their biases — are the only way to avoid bias.

‘We’re so much more subtly following the news cycle and what’s important,’ she said. ‘That’s really the only legitimate way to do it at this point.'”

Delivering news is one part of the puzzle. The other is working with the publishers that actually build that news. It is not a secret that Apple has its 30 percent tax in place, and this goes for the news agencies that want to work with Apple News. This is seen as a major hesitation point for many news agencies, because they have not made much at all from the ads within Apple Music, and the Apple Tax does not help matters.

“‘What Apple giveth, Apple can taketh away,’ said Bill Grueskin, a Columbia University journalism professor and a former editor at The Journal, Bloomberg and other publications. Once readers are trained to get their news from Apple, he said, news organizations will realize: ‘You’re at the mercy of Apple.'”

Still, it appears that, generally speaking and compared to the other options out there, Apple News is seen in a more positive light. Even with Apple’s self-imposed roadblocks. Whether or not Apple will change some of its rules for news publishers remains to be seen, though.

The full interview is definitely worth a read, so check it out through the source link below.

[via The New York Times]