Reinventing the News for a Mobile World  | American Journalism Review
 AJR  Features
From AJR,   June/July 2013

Reinventing the News for a Mobile World   

That's Anthony De Rosa's mission as he steps down as Reuters' social media editor to help run the mobile-only news service Circa.Thu., June 13, 2013.

By Gabrielle Kratsas
AJR editorial assistant Gabrielle Kratsas (gkratsas@ajr.umd.edu) is a student at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland.     



Anthony De Rosa

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. Starting June 17, De Rosa will be doing just that as the Reuters social media editor takes on his new editor-in-chief position at mobile-only news service Circa.

David Cohn, Circa's founding editor, said via e-mail that bringing on De Rosa, with his background in technology and news experience, "is incredibly exciting and a big win... This is also an area that Anthony has been thinking about on his own, and bringing him in with fresh eyes to see what we've done so far will be fantastic."

Cohn says his new hire "is passionate, hard working and understands news, especially breaking news. In short--he brings a lot to the table."

Circa, the self-proclaimed "best way to read news on your phone," is an iOS app that launched just last year, cofounded by tech guru Arsenio Santos, Spot.us founder Cohn, Internet entrepreneur Ben Huh and Socialthing and SimpleGeo co-founder Matt Galligan. 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," Cohn says.

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.

Circa has "a mission I believe in more than anything else," says De Rosa, who has been interested in the app since the beginning in 2011 when it was initially named the Moby Dick Project. "I met Ben at News Foo, a gathering of journalists in Arizona, and found that we were kindred spirits in the concepts of what was broken in journalism and especially the stagnation of the article format," De Rosa says, referring to the traditional inverted pyramid style of articles, repetitive information in updates of ongoing stories and the lack of technology-tailored news presentation.

He kept an eye on the team as it grew, while keeping in touch with Huh and Galligan over the last year and a half before deciding it was the right time to join the Circa team.

"I absolutely love my job here at Reuters," says De Rosa, who has worked there since 2010. But, he adds, "I felt like there was more room for me to grow at Circa, and they offered me an opportunity I could not refuse."

Before joining Reuters, De Rosa developed Web sites, managed large technology projects and worked with a software startup. The New York Times once dubbed him "The undisputed King of Tumblr."

As Reuters' social media editor, De Rosa integrated newsworthy content from social platforms into Reuters reporting. He informed the newsroom by finding sources, videos, photos and story updates in social media. "I found new ways to tell stories using social media, which led to receiving a Best Innovation in Storytelling award in 2012," De Rosa says. He, along with the Reuters product team led by Alex Leo, launched the Social Pulse section of Reuters.com, a social media hub designed to show readers "the most talked-about news, companies and influencers across the Web." De Rosa also had his own column and hosted Reuters TV's "Tech Tonic."

Kenneth Li, an editor at Reuters who hired De Rosa, declined to comment, but he tweeted, "Heartbreaking. big loss for us. Big get for @circa," on May 28, the day Circa announced it had hired De Rosa.

For his part, De Rosa says, "I will miss my colleagues from around the world, and especially the ones I worked closely with in New York. I made so many great friends, many I will keep for a lifetime." As he moves on, De Rosa hopes to cite reports of colleagues that he collaborated with at Reuters.

Still, after working on a two-person team at Reuters, he is excited about Circa's larger roster. "I was very understaffed at Reuters, which made it difficult to maintain the level of output I wanted and to cover so many events simultaneously," he says. "I'm happy that I will have a team of 11 to carry out our mission."

While remaining in New York, De Rosa will be working with colleagues who are located at seven different places (three abroad and the rest in the U.S.), using online tools that allow the Circa journalists to stay in contact with each other, according to Cohn. He says that they use a chat room and a project management tool to stay in sync.

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."

###