Apple launched a special section of its News app on Monday dedicated to the upcoming midterm elections, a section it said will be filled with stories and features curated by Apple News editors from “trusted publishers.” And while the name Facebook didn’t appear anywhere in the company’s press release, the description of the new section seemed like one long subtweet of the social network.
While Facebook continues to try to overcome a reputation for misinformation—especially the kind distributed by Russian trolls—and fights with publishers about lumping their news stories in with political advertising, Apple makes a point of noting that its stories are curated by human beings, and that it has solid relationships with leading news publishers. Editor in Chief Lauren Kern, the former executive editor of New York magazine, said in a note promoting the launch:
We won’t shy away from controversial topics, but our goal is to illuminate, not enrage. And we’ll always steer clear of rumor and propaganda. These elections matter. Every vote matters. And now, more than ever, trustworthy, accurate information matters.
The new Election 2018 section will include features such as The Conversation, a collection of opinion columns intended to “offer readers a full range of ideas and debate about important subjects, from news sources they may not already follow,” as well as On the Ground, which will “highlight quality reporting about issues that matter to local constituents on the most important races.”
Apple says it will also have exclusive content from several different news organizations, including an Election Now dashboard from The Washington Post that will present key data from important primary races, a weekly briefing from Axios and a feature called “Races to Watch” from Politico.
Not everyone is excited about Apple’s selection of “trusted sources.” Journalism professor Dan Gillmor, for example, noted on Twitter that one of the first publishers the company mentions in its release is Fox News, a site many people might argue shouldn’t be trusted on certain public policy issues.
Apple has always been a control freak. That applies to news. Here's a new press release in which the company says, essentially, that it's going to pick the winners among journalism organizations based on quality. Note, however, that Fox "News" is included. https://t.co/EwDBXfAp0h
— Dan Gillmor (@dangillmor) June 25, 2018
That kind of criticism aside, however, it seems clear that Apple is positioning its News offering as a smarter alternative to the algorithm-driven curation that Facebook and other social platforms engage in, because Apple employs editors to make the decision about what is a credible news story and what isn’t. Does that actually result in smarter news coverage? Theoretically, yes. But in practice, at such a huge scale? That’s still an open question.
Not only is Apple offering what it says is qualitatively better news, but it is also doing so without any of the advertising-related issues that Facebook is struggling with. At the moment, the social network is still getting slammed by publishers who believe classifying news stories as political advertising (when they are promoted or “boosted” on the network to ensure people see them) is inherently dangerous.
On top of all that, Facebook is still being criticized by publishers for not providing enough revenue, especially on the video content that the social network convinced everyone to start creating. And the combination of all of these factors is driving some publishers towards Apple News as an alternative—one the giant consumer electronics company is clearly trying hard to take advantage of. Whether it is a better home for news than Facebook or the other social platforms remains to be seen.Mathew Ingram is CJR’s chief digital writer. Previously, he was a senior writer with Fortune magazine. He has written about the intersection between media and technology since the earliest days of the commercial internet. His writing has been published in the Washington Post and the Financial Times as well as by Reuters and Bloomberg.