News aggregator app SmartNews' latest feature aims to tackle doomscrolling

News aggregator SmartNews is today launching a new feature that it hopes will help combat the anxiety associated with regularly consuming negative news -- something often referred to as "doomscrolling." Instead of encouraging impulsive scrolling through its headlines, the app's new feature called SmartTake claims to offer a selection of uplifting stories, editor's picks, useful articles and calming graphics in a single destination.

The feature would be a shift in tone for SmartNews, which regularly spits out push notifications with news and entertainment headlines designed to make you launch the app and read, even if they aren't quite extreme enough to be considered clickbait. The app's top news section, meanwhile, tends to include the most head-turning stories -- like those of murders, kidnappings, plane crashes or notable or surprising comments from public figures and government officials.

SmartTake, on the other hand, is meant to feature more interesting and less shocking tales.

Image Credits: SmartNews' SmartTake

“It’s more apparent than ever that doomscrolling is a phenomenon having an outsized impact on our well-being,” said Ken Suzuki, chief executive officer of SmartNews, in announcing the feature. “Everyone is different in the way they consume information, but there are small things we can do to help improve our users’ mental health. By giving SmartNews users an opportunity to experience newsfeeds in a new, unique way that balances the day’s news with a dash of mindfulness and uplifting stories, we are taking our first steps to address this pervasive problem," he added.

In practice, however, we found the new feature didn't quite live up to the task.

For example, today's selection includes a 102-year-old woman's advice for a longer life and teens who created resources to impact the toll social media takes on mental health, both of which were good, even uplifting reads. But not all its stories were positive or calming, by any means. The editor's pick features a story about Japan's former PM Shinzo Abe's assassination, while another is about the killing of an LA sheriff's deputy. Other stories focus on the writer's strike, dementia among aging U.S. government officials and Hunter Biden's suing of the IRS. Hardly the kind of stories you'd read if trying to avoid doomscrollnig.

Image Credits: SmartNews' SmartTake

However, because the feature is isolated to a single tab in the app, you could read through its mix of stories -- both uplifting and not -- without being sucked into the more negative news content found elsewhere in the app. Some of the stories are just briefs with bullet points, almost Axios-style, allowing you to quickly consume the information and stay informed, without having to read through a longer piece.

To develop SmartTake, SmartNews says its team spent more than 300 hours over the past year conducting research and reviewing academic literature to understand the phenomenon of doomscrolling. It also ran a small study with 48 participants and analyzed their 7,000 responses to help it build a news feature with mental health in mind. Now, it's planning to create an advisory board with academics, entrepreneurs, doctors and other subject matter experts.

The feature is edited by the company's veteran journalists including Rich Jaroslovsky, VP of Content and chief journalist at SmartNews, and Wendy Bounds, ex-WSJ, ABC, CNBC and now global head of Content at SmartNews, alongside an industry-leading trust and safety team led by Arjun Narayan, head of Trust & Safety.

The feature is the first major announcement from SmartNews since the Tokyo-headquartered news aggregator announced a 40% reduction of its U.S. and China workforce, or around 120 people, at the beginning of the year. The app was valued at $2 billion as of 2021.