Fake news is hardly new news, but over the past couple years it’s found a new home across social media and other news aggregators. And, perhaps, not surprisingly, people’s trust of the news isn’t at an all-time high. But people have also started paying more attention to the news, at least in the US. The Pew Research Center reports that last year more Americans followed the news “very closely” than the number of people who said they did in 2016.
The makers of the Flipboard, a news aggregator with 100 million monthly active users around the world, noticed the same thing: more people are reading the news. Since last summer, the app’s engagement numbers have doubled, both in terms of “page flips” (the app’s signature page-flipping motion) and the amount of time spent in the app. But Flipboard is hardly immune to the thorny issue of fake news, which the company’s editorial director once likened to “living in a hellish, ranting, Tower of Babel, with no one speaking the same ideological language and each of us in near-violent disagreement.”
That’s why Flipboard is doubling down on news curated by humans. Today, it’s updating its app and website to include features that emphasize trustworthy news sources, ranging from book recommendations by top editors, to a weekly email newsletter, to a collaborative feature that lets groups create private Flipboard magazines. And it’s starting with the section of Flipboard the company says is most popular among its users: tech news.
The new, high-density layout looks uncannily like that of a traditional newspaper, just with bylines from scattered sources.
Each Monday, Flipboard will show book recommendations from top tech experts and editors chosen by the company (including, full disclosure, WIRED’s editor-in-chief Nicholas Thompson). The app will also put news and reviews into publisher-branded buckets or roundups, like a Wirecutter “Deals of the Week” package or The Verge’s “Gadget News” roundup.
Flipboard’s tech section on the web is also getting a refresh: Its new, high-density layout looks uncannily like that of a traditional newspaper, just with bylines from scattered sources. The company is also pushing a new feature called “team magazines” as a way for groups of people to create and privately share relevant news stories among their group. Individual users could create their own magazines before, but the new feature taps into the idea that people may be more likely to trust a news source—or simply read it—if colleagues are the ones aggregating it.
The update also involves a deeper push into commerce for Flipboard, which had Buy buttons in its shopping section before but never really intended to turn the app into a product catalog. The new weekly book recommendations will include links to Amazon.com, and eventually the Buy buttons will extend to “apps and gear and gadgets and products,” according to Flipboard co-founder and chief executive Mike McCue.
A media aggregator collating tech news for tech insiders may hardly seem like a magic bullet for combatting society’s fake news problem. But McCue and his team, including co-founder Marci McCue and head of curation Mia Quagliarello, say tech news is just the first area they’ve decided to focus on, and that there’s more to come. Health care was mentioned more than once as a potential news area.
Flipboard’s emphasis on curated news is also coming just as Apple is reportedly working on a premium, subscription-based news service that utilizes some of the tech the company acquired when it bought news app Texture. McCue says that while Apple keeps a “high bar,” it only motivates Flipboard. “Flipboard has grown up in a world where we’ve had massive competitors,” McCue says. “That’s just a reminder for us to stay focused on our mission.”
That mission appears to be maintaining its status as a “tech company with media values,” as McCue likes to describe it. It’s a starkly different approach than the tack that some web giants take with regards to news, like Facebook and Twitter. “With tech companies there’s much more of a hands-off approach and an unwillingness to apply judgment,” McCue says. “For us, the kind of environment we want to create is one where people provide that judgment.”