Reinventing the news article for mobile

by Gabrielle Kratsas
Jun 19, 2013 in Social Media

What better way to start afresh than with a startup?

For a tech-savvy journalist in a world of smartphones, tablets and other handhelds, a news article made strictly for mobile media may just be the next best thing.

"Reinventing the article is what I jump out of bed thinking about," said Anthony De Rosa in an e-mail interview about his latest career move. De Rosa, who until recently was Reuters social media editor, took on his new editor-in-chief position at mobile-only news service Circa June 17.

Circa, the self-proclaimed "best way to read news on your phone," is an iOS app that launched just last year. The San Francisco-based startup acknowledges today's changing news media by creating more concise stories from a pool of articles, documents, tweets, reports, blogs and more, while fact-checking and citing every point along the way.

Among other made-for-mobile conveniences, one of Circa's top features is the ability for readers to follow a "live" or ongoing story. For example, when Circa users want to stay up to the minute on major news such as the NSA whistleblower leak, they simply touch the grey flag marked with a plus sign in the upper right corner of the screen while the current story is open. Circa then sends those users a notification every time new information is available, such as a short profile of Edward Snowden. "I often say that Circa is half a technology company and half a media company," says Circa Director of News David Cohn.

But what he and the rest of the team won't say is that Circa produces news summaries. Summly, a news app purchased by Yahoo! earlier this year, uses an algorithm to create short summaries of articles, while Circa uses a team of 11 to find and add in details that a summary might skip over.

Cohn describes Circa's coverage of the Boston Marathon bombings: "We followed the story and had details, captured moments, gave context, fact-checked popular narratives spreading online, etc. etc. It is all these nuances that require real editorial judgment beyond an algorithm summarizing a single article."

Falling away from the traditional article format, Circa stories can "branch and morph," providing readers with digestible chunks of important and less significant but interesting details to scroll through as the story progresses and unfolds. Specifically, Circa users can swipe through several "points" of a story, jumping from a short description of what's going on to a related quote and then to some background information or statistics. Most of these points also come equipped with "Related Story" links that readers can tap for further Circa coverage on that point's subject. Some points may have historical facts related to the topic, images or an extra fact that many other full articles did not include.

Because of De Rosa's experience at Reuters, coordinating and organizing various live blogs for major news stories including Hurricane Sandy, Gaddafi's fall in Libya and the fighting in Syria, he is confident in taking over as editor-in-chief. He says the blogs take "a great deal of time and communication skills, which I think lend themselves well to the role I'll be taking on at Circa. Once I get a sense of how the sausage gets made, I'll be able to start to offer ideas and suggestions."

De Rosa says he hopes that as Circa evolves it will add original reporting to its arsenal, but that's not his current focus. "That's a goal to reach eventually, but in the meantime it's important to verify reports for ourselves," he says. "I want to ensure we can feel confident about what we are reporting."

This post is excerpted from an American Journalism Review article. It is published on IJNet with permission.

Kratsas is an editorial assistant at American Journalism Review.

Photo: De Rosa (right) conducts an iPad interview. Courtesy of Scott Beale with a Creative Commons license.