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Sept. 27, 2017, 9:44 a.m.
Reporting & Production

Social video giant NowThis gets a “Newsroom,” working out its real-time reporting in public

“To us, it’s a workspace — a place where a group of NowThis journalists can help the public better understand how emerging news stories develop while giving the rest of the NowThis newsroom a competitive edge in reporting them.”

Reported.ly is back — in a way.

The real-time social reporting outlet, whose global staff was spread across different time zones and covered breaking news in shifts primarily through monitoring Twitter and other social media platforms, shut down on August 31 of last year after its host company, Pierre Omidyar’s First Look Media, ended financial support.

Now it’s bringing its real-time reporting methods to the social video publisher NowThis. Reported.ly DNA, for instance, is plainly visible in Newsroom, which is starting as a Twitter-based reporting vehicle that’s part of NowThis. (It debuted at a chaotic time: earthquake in Mexico, Hurricane Maria, protests in the U.S.)

Former editor-in-chief and founder Andy Carvin and deputy managing editor P. Kim Bui were both scooped up by the social video publisher this spring to serve as new editors-at-large, along with a few other major hires that signaled the company’s interest in original news reporting.

“We spent a lot of time trying to learn and understand what has made NowThis so successful, and apply it to our lessons from Reported.ly. We’ve learned a lot about the NowThis style and voice and how we put pieces together on video,” Bui told me via email. “I was particularly happy to discover NowThis focuses in on very similar topics to those we cared about at Reported.ly (criminal and social justice, the environment, etc.)…these were topics we covered before at Reported.ly, and topics we both personally care about.”

She was writing to me from St. Louis, where NowThis dispatched a team to cover the ongoing protests over the acquittal of former police officer Jason Stockley, who was found not guilty of first-degree murder for killing Anthony Lamar Smith in 2011. Such comprehensive coverage of an event — with full teams both on the ground and working remotely to monitor social media — wouldn’t have been possible on Reported.ly’s resources, Bui said: “To have three teams go out, with another team at home base, helping us sort through social and produce stories, has been a big epiphany for me. I’ve learned it’s not either/or — on-the-ground reporting and social reporting from afar. I had always done one or the other for the most part.”

Bui and Carvin have been on a “listening tour” through NowThis over the past few months, the two told my colleague Ricardo Bilton in March shortly after their hiring; a significant amount of their work since has been under the hood.

“We’ve actually been doing a lot of breaking news work over the last few months. To me it was important to experience how [NowThis] already did breaking news, explore the complementary nature of social reporting and video, and experiment behind the scenes,” Carvin wrote via email. (I’d been trying to reach Carvin and Bui on a day they were trying to juggle coverage of the protests, earthquake, and hurricane.) “So a number of breaking news stories we’ve covered in recent months — the hurricanes, the Barcelona attacks — had us working behind the scenes doing what we’d done publicly in the past, to give the rest of the NowThis newsroom a better sense of how we do it. So there’s been a lot of social reporting on our part going on behind the scenes leading up to the rollout of @newsroom.”

As for the experiments to come in original, reported video, Bui and Carvin mentioned potential longer-form, documentary-style video, as well as more real-time footage in NowThis videos.

“One thing is that we’re hoping to pipeline real-time content into video, which only strengthens the original reporting that NowThis already did,” Bui said. “We also have lots of experiments in mind and you’ve already seen us try some of those out in the past week…we’ll continue to tweak as we go and launch small experiments.”

“I think there are a lot of possibilities, and more documentary-like video could certainly be a part of it,” Carvin added. “One of the nice things about being at NowThis is that we’re surrounded by video pros who build out their own areas of expertise on subjects we’re interested in pursuing as well. So we’re hoping over time that the cumulative reporting we do can lead to larger and and more deeply-reported visual projects ahead.”

Their team will grow, albeit slowly and intentionally, in the next year to year-and-a-half (it’s hiring at the moment for a three-month contract position for a social reporting journalist, which has the potential to become a full-time role).

“One of the mistakes I think we made at Reported.ly was assuming that a team of six of us could cover 18 hours a day of real-time reporting while working on longer-form stories. That left us stretched way too thin,” Carvin said. “So we’re rolling out @newsroom in a more low-key fashion, having the team and our work capacity grow over time to see what makes the most sense for us.”

Reported.ly also never got a chance to implement some of the revenue models they’d been incubating before First Look Media pulled funding entirely, Carvin told Fortune last August. Does being a part of NowThis, which is part of a well-funded portfolio of social-savvy publishers that also includes The Dodo and Thrillist, give the Newsroom project some additional financial cushion? Would Newsroom be expected to monetize its work soon? Newsroom should be viewed more as a rising original reporting tide that lifts all NowThis boats, Carvin emphasized.

“We’re not looking at @newsroom as an audience play in which we’re optimizing tweets for the most eyeballs,” he said. “To us, it’s a workspace — a place where a group of NowThis journalists can help the public better understand how emerging news stories develop while giving the rest of the NowThis newsroom a competitive edge in reporting them. So in that sense, it’s less of a vertical and more of a news desk that’ll help strengthen our reporting capacity across the board.”

POSTED     Sept. 27, 2017, 9:44 a.m.
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