Kinzen’s Áine Kerr: ‘People are fed up of the endless scroll’

8 Feb 2019

Image: Áine Kerr

Journalism luminary Áine Kerr wants to build trust in media by creating a news community from the ground up.

For Áine Kerr, journalism and education are closely linked. As a student, she was torn between the two fields, eventually choosing to go into teaching after school. After college, she spent her evenings involved in community journalism with The Northside People in Dublin.

Now, as co-founder of news curation start-up Kinzen, Kerr and her co-founders Paul Watson and Storyful founder Mark Little want to create a news experience that the user can control.

Ahead of her appearance at Inspirefest 2019, Kerr spoke with about the main drive behind her lifelong work. After a while teaching, she said, her passion for “teasing stories out, meeting people and being a storyteller” soon took over and she went on to build an impressive career in media in the ensuing years, from print journalism to working at Storyful and Facebook. 

Kerr has seen first-hand how the level of online disinformation came to be what it is currently. While working as managing editor of Storyful, she helped the company bring “content from the margins to the mainstream honest broker”.  

At Facebook, Kerr headed up global journalism partnerships in New York up until 2017. These experiences, Kerr says, have led up to the creation of Kinzen and a single question: “How do you build trust in between people and journalism?”  

The advent of the smartphone

Media has seen “years of disruption”, Kerr says, noting that her time at Storyful coincided with the rise to ubiquity of the smartphone: “Everyone was now a publisher.”

With global stories such as the Arab Spring and the Boston bombings emerging, she said: “There were definitely some times in Storyful where we spent more time debunking content than we did verifying it.” The company aimed to be a “signal in the noise”, verifying the deluge of user-generated content. 

While she recognises the great power of social media, noting it can “help us better understand the world around us”, Kerr is under no illusions about the ‘false news’ problem affecting these platforms, adding that it “has always been there in different shapes and forms”. 

Worn out by the news cycle

When it came to the development of Kinzen, Kerr and her co-founders found research stating how many of us feel “worn out” by the current news cycle and are becoming increasingly concerned about online advertising and our data footprints. Looking at this data, the team aimed to create “an experience that feels personalised and localised”. 

Describing the app as “news to fit the rhythm of your day”, Kerr explained that Kinzen will provide users with “a healthy news routine”. The prevalence of a health-conscious discussion among the general population and the concept of spending your time well were also key factors. “People are fed up of the endless scroll … looking for something that might spark our interest.”  

With Kinzen, the team hopes to offer people “a sense of control amid this era of misinformation”. Users can choose their channels based off interest or subject, as well as time of day. As Kerr explained: “In the morning coming in on the DART, I have 20 minutes – render me an experience based on that 20-minute window.” 

It’s not all familiar content, though, as the team still wants to “make sure you are feeling challenged”. To avoid filter bubbles, curated discover sections will be a major element of the app, with channels covering everything from breastfeeding to cryptocurrency news. Rather than a continuous news feed, the hope is that the compartmentalised channels all on a single app will make for an informative but less noisy news experience.  

The team has had thousands of people testing the pre-launch version of the app and these people have been directly shaping the end product – including helping to create a growing directory of 2,500 validated sources. Kerr added that Kinzen also aims to work with NewsGuard and Trust Metrics among others, to ensure that user trust is always centred.  

A push for media literacy is needed

Linking back to her passion for education, Kerr added that user trust can grow when media literacy does. She described the present as a “huge fundamental moment in the media industry where we need everyone from librarians, teachers, NGOs, right up to the platforms, to play their part”.  

While we are never going to be totally rid of disinformation, Kerr believes there is a lot to be said for teaching people the skills of journalists, citing the News Literacy Project as a prime example of a crucial movement. She hopes that initiatives such as this help mould a generation of “sceptical, critical thinkers”.  

Aside from the obvious work that needs to be undertaken by platforms, Kerr also said that journalists need to be more transparent about how pieces come together: “Show your work.”

Inspirefest is Silicon Republic’s international event celebrating the point where science, technology and the arts collide. Early Bird tickets for Inspirefest 2019 are available now. 

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects