A Blog by Jonathan Low

 

Oct 28, 2018

Apple's Radical Approach To News - Humans Rather Than Algorithms

Humans have biases - but so do algorithms.

Apple has decided that based on its understanding of artificial intelligence, the subtlety, nuance and context required for accurate and objective news reporting is best delivered by humans, not machines. JL


Jack Nicas reports in the New York Times:

Apple has waded into the messy world of news with a service that is read regularly by 90 million people. But while Google, Facebook and Twitter have come under  scrutiny for their disproportionate — and sometimes harmful — influence over the spread of information, Apple has avoided controversy. One reason is that while its Silicon Valley peers rely on machines and algorithms to pick headlines, Apple uses humans. “We’re following the news cycle and what’s important. That’s the only legitimate way to do it at this point.”
Many of Apple’s employees moved into a glistening new $5 billion glass headquarters in Cupertino, Calif., this year. A mile west, at Apple’s old campus on 1 Infinite Loop, a project antithetical to Silicon Valley’s ethos is now underway.
In a quiet corner of the third floor, Apple is building a newsroom of sorts. About a dozen former journalists have filled a few nondescript offices to do what many other tech companies have for years left to software: selecting the news that tens of millions of people will read.
One morning in late August, Apple News’s editor in chief, Lauren Kern, huddled with a deputy to discuss the five stories to feature atop the company’s three-year-old news app, which comes preinstalled on every iPhone in the United States, Britain and Australia.
National news sites were leading that day with stories that the Justice Department had backed an affirmative-action lawsuit against Harvard University — a good proxy that the story mattered, said Ms. Kern’s deputy, a former editor for The New York Times whom Apple requested not be named for privacy reasons. He and Ms. Kern quickly agreed that it was the day’s top news, and after reading through a few versions, selected The Washington Post’s report because, they said, it provided the most context and explanation on why the news mattered.


Another story drawing wide coverage: racial barbs on the first day of the Florida’s governor race. Ms. Kern and her deputy said they wanted a piece that covered the topic thoughtfully because race is a sensitive subject. They selected a nuanced Miami Herald piece that examined the comments, their context and the debate about them.
They also later picked a CBS News video of John McCain’s memorial service, an SB Nation story on Serena and Venus Williams facing off in the United States Open, and a Bloomberg feature on 20-hour flights. Ms. Kern said her team aimed to mix the day’s top stories with lighter features and sometimes longer investigations, much like the front page of a newspaper. They largely chose from a list of contenders compiled that morning by three editors in New York who pored over the home pages and mobile alerts of national news sites, as well as dozens of pitches from publications.
“We put so much care and thought into our curation,” said Ms. Kern, 43, a former executive editor of New York Magazine. “It’s seen by a lot of people and we take that responsibility really seriously.”
Apple has waded into the messy world of news with a service that is read regularly by roughly 90 million people. 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 former journalist has quietly become one of the most powerful figures in English-language media. The stories she and her deputies select for Apple News regularly receive more than a million visits each.

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