Photo by Shuyao Chen – Penn State University

Eric Ulken of Philadelphia Media Network, left, talks with Eddy Cue Apple Senior Vice President of Internet Software and Services.

by Alan Hovorka
Ball State University

In a rare conference appearance, Apple’s Eddy Cue spoke candidly with the nation’s top newspaper editors, reaffirming the tech company’s commitment to supporting quality journalism in a turbulent time.

Kellen Hazelip © 2016 - Ball State University
Kellen Hazelip © 2016 – Ball State University

“The only reason that I came here is because of how much we value what you guys do,” said Cue, senior vice president of internet software and services. “And you can go back and go look, we don’t do this kind of stuff. I don’t go speak at any events because I rather spend my time working on new versions of a new product.”

Cue, speaking at the 2016 ASNE-APME News Leaders Conference in Philadelphia, discussed the tech company’s efforts in supporting journalism with Apple News, the relationship it envisions with publishers and tidbits on how to survive in fast-changing industries.

When it comes to the future of news, Apple wants to enable publishers to experiment with content presentation, distribution and monetization with Apple News, Cue said in his chat with Eric Ulken, executive director of digital strategy for, The Philadelphia Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News.

Apple views itself as a potential partner with publishers, where they provide the tools so that publishers can focus on quality content, Cue said.

“Our piece of it is, how do we make it so that we can give you tools for capabilities to make it easier for you to not have to build those [development] teams and allow you to focus on the things that make you really great?” Cue said. “That’s what we’re trying to do at Apple News. For us, Apple News is not a money maker and never will be.”

Currently, Apple News has about 70 million monthly active users, where the app has grown its monthly active users by about 10 to 15 percent every month since launch, according to Cue. His keynote came days after the unveiling of the iPhone 7 and before the launch of iOS 10.

One of the significant advantages of working with Apple that Cue sought to convey was the potential publishers have in streamlining the transaction process for news, where readers would no longer fumble to input their credit card information repeatedly. The problem is how do publishers price content out?

“It’s not clear to me. It’s not as simple as the music industry,” the Apple executive said. “I don’t think we can say each article is the same price. I think there are some more complexities around it that make it a little difficult.”

Cue’s Monday keynote received warm reception from the room of news editors, some of whom commended him for his mindfulness and nuanced perspective on the challenges facing journalism.

“I was not only impressed, but pleased with what he said about the importance of journalism and of news and of an informed electorate in a democracy,” said Bob Haiman, retired president of the Poynter Institute. “I felt that was a wonderful endorsement of the work that most of the people at this meeting are so committed to and have committed their lives to.”

Kellen Hazelip © 2016 - Ball State University
Kellen Hazelip © 2016 – Ball State University

When questioned by NPR’s Michael Oreskes, senior vice president of news and editorial director, about Facebook censoring a Pulitzer Prize winning Vietnam War-era photograph, Cue said he wants to leave editorial judgment to the experts. He wants to scale back from Apple choosing Apple News’ top five stories.

“The question starts becoming of where do you draw the line, and it becomes liberating when you let it go. That’s why my goal is to move backwards,” he said. “I don’t even want to do five stories. I don’t want to do any. … It’s not as simple as running algorithm, and it’ll be perfectly fine.”

As the son of Cuban immigrants, Cue feels that an independent and strong press is needed now more than ever.

“I think as you look at the world today, all over the world, it’s really important that we have great, successful, expanding news organization in the world,” he said. “You guys do incredible work that’s extremely valuable and makes society better. Without you, it would be a disaster.”