In the age of social and app-based news, the decisions made in Big Tech boardrooms dictate nearly all of our digital interactions. Apple News + update will inherently change how we consume the news.
‘Big Tech’ announcements are no stranger to the limelight. Entire news cycles are devoted to Apple’s Events and conferences; seemingly mundane congressional hearings about data privacy can glue audiences to C-SPAN live streams for hours in a way that rivals any political saga in the Trump era.
Because in our digital world, engineers and product visionaries carry as much cultural clout as any Hollywood celebrity. And whether they create apps or new marketplaces (like Uber or Airbnb), they are transforming our daily lives in ways that political heavyweights could only dream of.
And in no uncertain terms, these tech giants have altered the fabric of news consumption, turning the makers of Facebook and Twitter into some of the most important digital editors. We’ve accepted Newsfeed-based social media’s role in syncing political machines with our individual digital behavior, seeing them more and more as the final arbiters of what is published and consumed by the general public.
Until recently, it appeared as though Facebook and Twitter were to determine the future of the news industry. But after months of public backlash and high profile hearings, Facebook executives are changing course and putting less emphasis on creating a media-centric news feed, opting instead to go back to the basics of “social” media – connecting current friends. According to his blog post, Zuckerberg is leading the charge towards a “privacy first” platform in which connecting with more intimate groups of friends will trump efforts to court high click-through content. This announcement is on the heels of Facebook-owned WhatsApp cracking down on message forwarding as an attempt to cut the spread of fake news.
Now Apple is making a play to change the direction of digital news. And it has nothing to do with the digital currency of likes or retweets.
The roll out of Apple News + could bring about one of the most drastic changes to news distributing and consumption since the dawn of the smartphone itself.
Under one subscription of $9.99, Apple News + is the most robust journalistic aggregator we have ever seen, giving users access to publications such as The New Yorker, LA Times, Washington Post (along with many of the biggest magazine). If it catches on fully, it is bound to be the ultimate arbiter of digital stories, providing access to articles without the issues of them being overrun by a person’s saturated newsfeed.
There are things still being worked out with the app (John Patrick Pullen’s account in Fortune is an apt description about the clunkiness of the new platform and how it currently falls short on the user experience side of things). Perhaps some of this will be discussed during this week’s much anticipated WWDC.
And it will definitely open up more questions about the relationship between journalism and the digital free market. Can a $9.99/month subscription model really save the entire magazine industry (who as a whole have seen their revenue cut in half over the last decade)? Will a singular repository of all news sources elevate ethically-problematic publications to the same level as reputable ones? These are questions consumers and technologists will figure out in the coming months and years.
But we cannot overlook the fact that for the first time in years, we have a roadmap in which the future of news is not intrinsically tied to social media platforms (a reality that sparked the fake news saga of 2016). It is, however, innately tied to the technologists’ focus on making web-based applications that are easier to use and more centralized. And this is something writers and journalists will have to grapple with in order to ensure their stories are distributed to their intended audiences.