The expected official reveal of Apple News on Wednesday offers journalists an opportunity to engage in some handwringing over a favorite old familiar topic: What’s to become of journalism? Against all reasonable odds, I — for one — am optimistic, so long as Apple goes to the right sources.
Here’s what Apple is looking for in its current events tastemakers, via a now-closed job listing quoted by 9to5Mac. They should be “the best in breaking national, global, and local news” and will “drive relationships with some of the world’s leading newsrooms, ensuring that important breaking news stories are surfaced quickly, and enterprise journalism is rewarded with high visibility.” As Techmeme founder Gabe Rivera pointed out when the algorithm eschewing service was first announced: “All news aggregators intended for the mass market need editors, so this makes sense for Apple.”
Such services have become a full-blown tech trend. Flipboard has done more than well for itself since its 2011 launch, and if it’s sweating the competition, it isn’t showing it. Facebook did something similar when it launched Facebook Instant in May. Apple will offer a similar ad structure as Facebook’s, giving publisher’s 100 percent of the revenue on ads they sell themselves versus 70 percent on the ads Apple sells for you. And, like Facebook, Apple will be sharing analytics with publishers. In case you’re wondering, the most popular publications on social network since Mark Zuckerberg got into the news game are, in descending order, National Geographic, CNN, BBC News, Fox News, The New York Times, The Times of India, ABC News, Yahoo, NBC News, and Al Jazeera English. More and more tech companies are resembling cable providers, bundling together a lot of channels they might not own in one package.
And as anyone stuck in an area with one media provider will tell you, competition is a good thing for consumers. Having more companies pimping content means it’ll be harder for one firm to consolidate influence over publishers. There’s a good amount of handwringing that Apple (or Facebook) could suppress unflattering reports, but that seems to give far too little credit to the people reading the news. Despite what conventional wisdom you might hear about the youth building their own echo chambers on social media, a Media Insight Project study indicated that as many as 70 percent of people 18 to 34 actively seek out diverse viewpoints, so the more options the better.
What curated news services could use, and what I hope whoever Apple hired keeps in mind, is a strong focus on local media. Paying attention to the enterprise projects and feature sections in America’s mid-market dailies and weeklies would have two immediately good effects.
One, it would set Apple stories uniquely apart from the typical aggregators who focus on the usual suspects like The New Yorker and The Atlantic. Typically, you have to wait until the end of the year’s Best American Sportswriting to see a great feature from the Atlanta Journal Constitution get some play, but I promise you those stories are there year-round, starving to get attention outside of their limited markets outside of awards season, often just as good, and on trend earlier, than the stories you find at the national level.
Secondly, it would give much-needed attention to the publications still struggling hardest since Craigslist cored the classifieds. Ironically, these are also the publications their audiences need the most. Forbid the day, but if The New York Times went down, there would still be ink-stained correspondents at the next White House press briefing. I’m not so sure anyone could be convinced to cover the next Cedar Rapids, Iowa, city council meeting if their Gazette turned off its printer. And unlike National Geographic, local papers have far fewer options for advertisers and exposure. In an optimistic future, Apple’s heft could ensure that the benefits of the Fourth Estate are equitably distributed.