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Publishers are taking a second look at news apps like SmartNews

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When Rich Jaroslovsky was hired to work for the news curation app SmartNews a little over four years ago, his new bosses suggested a job title that he found curious: chief journalist. “I chuckled a little and explained that in the U.S. that’s not a common title,” he recalled in an interview (SmartNews got its start and is headquartered in Japan). “A more common title would be editor in chief. And their answer was, ‘If you want to be editor in chief, that’s fine. But if you’re editor in chief, that implies you’re editing and making story selections, and that’s not what SmartNews is about.’ And when I thought about it for a moment, I said, ‘You’re absolutely right.’”

This distinction — that the app’s story selections are largely driven by algorithms, not hand-picked by humans — has grown increasingly important in recent months as publishers have taken a renewed interest in news apps.

This interest has been driven by their increased weariness with Facebook. Back in January, the social media giant announced that it was changing its Newsfeed algorithm so it would favor posts produced by friends and family; as a result of these changes, reach for publisher pages was expected to decline.

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