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Can This App Fix The Broken News Cycle?

Web & Mobile

Isadora Teich wrote this article

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Throughout history, human beings have been applying and evolving advanced technology to help solve complex problems.

What began as a desire to make accomplishing tasks easier became wide-scale, and is already well on the way to complete automation in many areas. However, in our quest to solve problems, we as humans often create new problems. Click To Tweet

For example, while the industrial revolution gave us the ability to produce essential (and non-essential) goods and services quite affordably at scale, it also led to increased global pollution.

In the case of the fourth industrial revolution (including the rise of automation, apps and social media) we have only really begun to scratch the surface when it comes to the pros and cons still waiting in the wings.

The news industry, however, has been particularly hard hit by all of these societal changes, and as they’ve tried to keep up in the age of social media, a whole new monster has emerged. These days, the consumption of news is often more controversial than the actual news itself.

Let’s take a look at how we got here, and how innovators are building apps to fix it.

The Social Media/News Nightmare

We live in a time where we can access almost all the world’s information at a moment’s notice.

Around the world, many people carry mobile devices that they can use to discover, buy, or learn about almost anything, on-the-go. Across social media, you can access global news in real-time.

But this has not necessarily led to a utopian, enlightened society — or even general consensus.

Instead, it has played a part in creating an increasingly polarized, at times misinformed, and overall, slightly suspicious society. Many people complain that they feel so drained from getting bombarded by negative news and fights about it on social media that they don’t want to log in at all.

In fact, tips on limiting social media exposure and avoiding virtual burnout are everywhere.

Social media in particular is drowning in conspiracies. People of all political leanings question news, scientific progress, even modern medicine.

“Fake news” is everywhere it seems, and it means different things depending on who you ask.

This is a complex problem, but to keep it short and sweet, we’ll explore just two of the factors that have fed into information overload and media bias.

Endless Info, Little Understanding

The sheer volume of information available today is impossible for most humans to wrap their heads around.

Most people simply don’t have the time in their day to critically question, fact check, and carefully balance every article that pops up on their newsfeed with an outside source.

Also, many simply don’t have this know-how yet.

This is a new problem, and the wildfire nature of social media combined with the news cycle has created difficulty for many when it comes to judging information from misinformation, and fact from opinion. Click To Tweet

As a society, most of us have access to all known information on earth.

But the vast majority of us have no meaningful way to sort through it all, or understand it easily.

Even the most well-read individuals can have difficulty navigating the overwhelming flood of constant information to determine fact from fiction. Not to mention the fact that these days, well-read does not equate with well-informed. And therein lies the rub.

Here are some quick, easy ways to double check your sources moving forward:

– Pay attention to the domain and URL and read the “About Us” section
– Look at the quotes in a story and who said them
– Check the comments
– Reverse image search, even google it

– You can also visit a fact checking or news literacy resource:

FactCheck.org

The International Fact-Checking Network (Poynter Institute)

First Draft

Digital Resource Center: Center for News Literacy

The Quest For Clicks

In order to stay afloat in the shift to digital media, news organizations also need to get clicks.

They do this by identifying a core audience, and creating (sometimes slightly misleading) headlines to get you to read more. Clickbait, as it’s aptly been coined.

Social media sites play right into this methodology. In order to keep you scrolling, clicking, and watching, their algorithms are driven to show you the content that you’d be most likely to enjoy and engage with.

This is fun when you are scrolling through endless cat videos on TikTok, because you happen to enjoy them.

But it can become dangerous when users are fed a consistent media diet filled with the content and news companies think is most likely to get them to like, comment, and subscribe — in essence, creating their own mini version of reality.

This might sound like it was written by someone wearing a tinfoil hat, but it’s actually quite simple.

All companies have to earn revenue to be sustainable businesses. Social media apps can only do this if users keep logging on, and brands keep spending money to boost their content for clicks, views and likes. It’s a symbiotic relationship, and both sides are equally motivated to keep users engaged.

It’s a b2b win-win, but this model has had some unexpected (and lasting) ramifications for users.

While some do require a paid subscription, most news sites follow this same monetization strategy, earning revenue when you interact with and click on their content, thanks to paid advertisers.

And just how do these news organizations tend to drive traffic and interest to their content? Social media, of course.

So, as the news cycle has been forced to blend in with social media to stay alive, it’s become a bit of a hot mess. Between Covid19, protests and the upcoming election cycle, it’s gotten to the point where recently, Twitter has been forced to fact check in the interest of public safety, while Facebook has created new labels and policies surrounding the transparency of state-controlled news and media organizations.

How Do We Fix This?

Brief is a unique new app created by former Google engineers.

Brief collects and summarizes news from a variety of sources to help solve these problems. Its founders decided to create Brief “after becoming increasingly alarmed by the damage technology is doing to public discourse.”

While news aggregator apps have been around for a while, they’ve had a slightly different approach.

Most news apps’ prime directive is to help you find increasingly more things to read about on topics that interest you.

But now, we have too much information.

If a news app is going to be truly helpful in that regard, it needs to cut through the clutter, present things simply, and offer a variety of genuine viewpoints.

Brief does this, and provides a timeline in its UI to help users understand the order and context of events.

Another aspect that separates Brief from its predecessors is it re-introduces human curation into the mix.

The Human Element

Social media sites employ algorithms for a reason: they work.

However, the price of complete automation is proving to be incredibly high for users.

In low-stakes situations, it is a smart business decision. For example, if you follow a lot of restaurants on Instagram, it makes sense that your explore page would be mostly food-centric. That’s fun!

However, in the case of current events and global news, running on pure numbers has had extreme consequences. That’s why Brief is taking a different approach.

According to Brief co-founder and CEO Nick Hobbs:

“We strongly believe that human editorial judgment is irreplaceable, which is why our newsroom decides which stories are covered and what priority they’re given.”

While Brief does use algorithms to archive what you have already read, it does not profile users based on what they read.

All users will see the exact same news in the same order, regardless of their previous interaction with the app. It will also curate social perspectives from the left and the right equally.

It’s Not All Smooth Sailing

Brief will face some challenges when it comes to user adaption.

For one, mass numbers of users would have to sign on for it to have any significant impact on the news cycle. Currently, the Brief app is only available to download via the App Store.

While they hope to target users who are exhausted by today’s biased and emotionally-manipulative digital news formatting (of which there are sure to be many), is there enough?

Social media and news companies are not entirely to blame for our current predicament, either. The reason their models work so well is that people inherently do not like to be questioned. They don’t want their viewpoints challenged.

They’re quite content, actually, to be in their respective bubbles, and engagement-driven algorithms only fuel this desire, delivering mini dopamine hits with each clickbait worthy post.

Brief will be competing with a plethora of news and social media apps designed to make users feel comfortable; where they are essentially right all the time. The reality is, some users may still choose to ignore any news source that presents opinions other than their own — even if said news is objectively fake. And there’s no real way to address that. The question becomes, do enough people even want the opportunity to have a more balanced perspective?

Brief requires users to pay nearly $5 monthly to confront the fact that they are wrong occasionally. Will Americans ultimately bite?

So far, it seems so. Before its debut, the app gained traction through App store ads alone. It has made it to No. 12 Magazines & Newspapers on the App Store.

It looks like there is an exciting future coming soon in drama-free news.

Final Thoughts

Ultimately, Brief is taking a new approach to news apps, but as is always the case when a problem presents itself en masse, more apps will follow.

In fact, here at Chop Dawg, we have an exciting news media app in the works that’s set to launch just before this year’s election.

What do you think of this entirely new way of presenting and consuming news in the digital space?

Talk to me. 

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About ChopDawg.com: Since 2009, we have helped create 300+ next-generation apps for startups, Fortune 500s, growing businesses, and non-profits from around the globe. Think Partner, Not Agency.

 

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