When designers create a personalized news app, they aren’t just designing software. They are creating a platform that participates in constructing an idea of news. An app can give you exactly the type of stories you’re interested in soccer and marmots only, please or it can suggest and display stories that it suspects you should be reading. You can, if you want, design a personal service with a preference for positive news that also avoids negative terms, something which NPR reported Google was doing in its “experimental newsroom” during the World Cup.
A decision like this is significant, with wide-ranging and unanticipated effects, but it’s the latest moment in a long history of value driven news decisions. Newspaper publishers in the colonial United States were in a similar situation: “None of the early papers reached out to collect news; they printed what came to them.” Selection decisions gradually became norms of news production; they created expectations and responsibilities for journalists and publishers. Likewise, app designers are currently making choices that are reshaping our experience of everyday news reading.