A new report sheds light on Apple’s human curation process of its Apple News service, explaining which news stories are included – and featured – in the app.
According to the New York Times report, Apple is an outlier in the fact that it uses actual human beings — not computer algorithms — to pick its daily featured stories. While the report notes that this approach can be seen as controversial in the fact that around a dozen people control what is seen by over 90 million, but Apple believes it to be the safer approach.
“We put so much care and thought into our curation,” says Apple News’ editor in chief, Lauren Kern, a former executive editor of New York Magazine. “It’s seen by a lot of people and we take that responsibility really seriously.”
While Facebook and Google’s algorithmic approach to curated news certainly pointed users to millions of different articles, driving traffics to all sorts of outlets, the process frequently promotes articles that can be sensational, misleading, or completely false. While both Facebook and Google have made public efforts to reduce the spread of such information, many view their efforts, at this point, to be in vain.
“Apple has waded into the messy world of news with a service that is read regularly by roughly 90 million people,” reads the report. “But while Google, Facebook and Twitter have come under intense scrutiny for their disproportionate — and sometimes harmful — influence over the spread of information, Apple has so far avoided controversy. One big reason is that while its Silicon Valley peers rely on machines and algorithms to pick headlines, Apple uses humans like Ms. Kern.”
The report explains that Apple News’ top stories are selected by a team of around 30 individuals made up of journalists based in New York, Silicon Valley, London, and Sydney. According to the report, the team fields somewhere between 100 and 200 pitches from various publishers per day, eventually choosing the five leading stories for the app. The team also selects a section of feature stories, which changes five or more times per day.
Apple’s decision to use human curation has certainly led to many difficult decisions on what stories to cover. While the report doesn’t go into depth in regards to individual journalists choosing stories, it does indicate that Apple is more than willing to skip some major stories that don’t pass the “smell test:”
That approach also led Apple News to not run an ABC News bombshell in December about Robert Mueller’s investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia. The story alleged that former national security adviser Michael Flynn was prepared to testify that Mr. Trump had directed him to contact Russian officials during the 2016 campaign. It rocketed across the internet, boosted by Google, Facebook and Twitter, before ABC News retracted it.
Ms. Kern said she and her team did not run the story because they didn’t trust it. Why? It’s not a formula that can be baked into an algorithm, she said.
“I mean, you read a story and it doesn’t quite pass the smell test,” she said.
“We are responsible for what’s in there,” says Roger Rosner, Apple’s chief of apps. “We’re not just going to let it be a total crazy land.”
Just a heads up for those who might not know this: you can actually install and use Apple News even if you’re not from the United States. To download the app, switch your phone’s region to the US. Once you’ve downloaded it and see that it works, switch the store back to your own country.