Why I signed up to beta test The New York Times’ new app

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Over the past week, I’ve noticed a number of my favorite podcasts all talking about the same thing—a new app developed by the The New York Times focused on audio journalism. As a former radio broadcaster as well as someone who currently works on a podcast (LexBlog’s This Week in Legal Blogging) this immediately piqued my interest.

It all started last Sunday when I pressed play on the latest episode of This American Life. Even before the episode began, host Ira Glass started the show by talking about this app.

He said The Times has seen a great deal of success since launching their own line of podcasts a few years back and they were inspired to tackle an issue they’ve since run up against:

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And they [The New York Times] thought  ‘we’re not done. You know what nobody is doing so well? Nobodies figured out how to guide podcast listeners to what to listen to next.

An interesting and worthwhile problem to solve. Their solution? An app where each day editors at The New York Times curate a collection of audio content for users. This will include their own podcasts, podcasts from Serial Productions (whom The Times own), This American Life and more.

The app will also include written articles from The Times and a slew of other publications read aloud—similar to an audiobook. It wouldn’t be surprising if they incorporate technology from Audm—another app they acquired back in 2020—to achieve this. Audm is its own app that turns written articles into audio content. It’s become increasingly common for publications to have audio versions of their articles—typically read by a somewhat off-putting automated voice. Audm sets itself apart from its competitors by having professional voice actors read the articles.

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The New York Times’ new app isn’t out yet. It’s still being tested. In fact, the whole reason it’s being advertised right now isn’t to encourage people to download it right this minute—but rather to get people to sign up to beta test the app.

I subsequently heard about this app and the need for beta testers on several episodes of The Daily last week, so I figured, why not sign up myself?

Luckily, the process to sign up for app beta testing was quite simple. I went to their site and took a survey. It asked me for information about myself and my media consumption habits and only took about 10 minutes. Now I just have to wait and see if I am selected to be a tester.

This app interests me for a number of reasons. Of course my professional career in radio and podcasts play into this, but I’m also just a big fan of podcasts personally. I’m an avid podcast listener in part because I’m an auditory learner. I have found podcasts to be the best format to stay informed and this app would only give expand these opportunities.

It’s not surprising to me that The Times is going for a format in which editors have a direct hand in deciding what content is put on the app. So much of our digital lives are controlled by algorithms these days. Many people are growing tired of the echo chambers social media platforms create and the disinformation that they breed—I certainly am.

More and more people are seeking curated content from reliable sources. While it remains to be seen exactly how this app will operate, the fact that curation seems to be a selling point of the app in its beta stage is promising.

If this app at all sounds interesting to you I encourage you to join the beta. If anything, it will be insightful to see how one of the biggest media companies in the world is attempting to solve the problem of guiding listeners to new content.

Alec Downing
About the Author

Alec is an intern on LexBlog’s publishing team where he creates content for the company’s various digital platforms. A former radio news anchor, Alec brings both a background in journalism and a passion for law. Alec has the eventual goal of attending law school—and of course—starting his own law blog. His writing has been published in The Seattle Times and Crosscut.

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