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Can Apple’s new unbiased, ‘fact-based’ news section really remain unbiased?

June 25th, 2018 at 11:34 AM
Apple News 2018 Midterm Elections

Apple is continuing to beef up its News App, announcing this morning the launch of a 2018 section covering the U.S. midterm elections, with the section including content from a curated list of trusted publishers.

From Apple’s announcement, the section builds on the app’s focus on using a team of editors to discover and spotlight “well-sourced fact-based stories.” Besides the stories, the section will also include special features such as “The Conversation,” a collection of opinion columns about hot-button topics that enlighten readers and introduce them to new ideas from publishers they might not already follow in the app, and “On the Ground,” which spotlights reporting on local issues that matter in key races.

“Today more than ever people want information from reliable sources, especially when it comes to making voting decisions,” said Lauren Kern, editor-in-chief of Apple News and formerly the executive editor of New York Magazine, in a release. “An election is not just a contest; it should raise conversations and spark national discourse. By presenting quality news from trustworthy sources and curating a diverse range of opinions, Apple News aims to be a responsible steward of those conversations and help readers understand the candidates and the issues.”

The new election-focused section in the app is U.S.-only and will run through November. Coverage will be presented from outlets across the spectrum, including Vox, Axios, Fox News and other publishers. Apple will also include content in formats beside news stories, such as via The Washington Post’s “Election Now” dashboard that contextualizes data like current polling; Axios’ weekly briefing that presents election analysis; and Politico’s “Races to Watch,” which uses a collection of races to walk through themes and trends important to voters.

The “fact-based” descriptor will make this an interesting project to watch. Objectivity is of course the ideal in news, but editorial judgements appear the moment any decisions at all start to be made, even if those judgements are primarily around curation. What publishers to showcase, what stories to include – who and what, in other words, counts as “fact-based.”

Serendipity has been baked into the Apple News app experience. You tell it what publishers you’d like to follow, and later as you scroll through the app, you’re not only shown a selection of content from those publishers but content is also grouped by theme. As that happens, the app pulls in relevant thematic content from publishers you may not have told the app you’d like to follow. Which may be as good a place as any to start in bridging the divide in this country – encouraging people to, yes, follow the news more closely. But gently, subtly introducing them to new publishers, new content, new arguments and ideas, new ways of thinking.

Andy is a reporter in Memphis who also contributes to outlets like Fast Company and The Guardian. When he’s not writing about technology, he can be found hunched protectively over his burgeoning collection of vinyl, as well as nursing his Whovianism and bingeing on a variety of TV shows you probably don’t like.

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