How Apple News decides what’s not fit to post

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Lauren Kern, late of New York Magazine, gives the New York Times a tour of the newsroom.


From Apple News’s Radical Approach: Humans Over Machines, not yet in print (probably Sunday):

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…

Ms. Kern said she prioritizes accuracy over speed. When a 24-year-old gunman killed two people in August at a video-game competition in Jacksonville, Fla., headlines on Google News, Facebook and Twitter blared that the shooter hated President Trump — a sensational detail that drove clicks and helped spread the story.

On Apple News, the prominent stories about the incident did not mention this factor. Ms. Kern had told her staff to be especially wary of reports immediately after mass shootings. “After every shooting, there’s always a ‘this person is associated with a terror group’ and then it turns out not to be true,” she said. She was proved right: Within days, the killer’s alleged hatred for Mr. Trump turned out to be false.

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.

My take: The algorithm that has a nose for news as finely tuned as Lauren Kern’s will easily pass the Turing Test.