It's been circa two days since the app was launched, so you're likely familiar with the essentials: Circa is a mobile-first media/tech start-up that has deconstructed the article, seeking a more direct way to place news in the palm of your hand.
This means discarding "fluff," "filler" and "commentary," and keeping only "essential points" such as facts, quotes, photos and maps, each of which is presented on its own "flash card" (two examples pictured).
Today, Editors Weblog Skyped with Circa's founding editor David Cohn about whether Circa's intentions toward the article are murderous, and what a newsroom without reporting looks like. In the spirit of the pared-down, fluff-free news, here is a (nearly untouched) transcript of our conversation.
How has it gone so far? Are you happy with the number of downloads, and the responses you are getting?
So far - feeling pretty good. To be honest, I don't even know how many downloads we have. I haven't looked. But we were the #1 app in the news section Monday and Tuesday. That's always an exciting thing for a startup. Responses have been great.
We had a rough launch day - the first few hours we suffered from some server issues (classic, right?) but once that settled down positive reviews* started coming in. We still have some technical issues we are working through to get some really core features working again - and then I think the folks that have already given us positive reviews will have their minds blown.
*When I say "positive reviews" - mostly just talking about Twitter chatter. And they can be clever, funny - really make you smile as somebody working at a startup.
Did you happen to read Sarah Lacy's piece for Pando Daily? Her title says that "Circa wants to save journalism by killing articles" – Is this true?
I wouldn't say "save journalism" – I often cringe when people use that term. No one thing can save journalism.
As for the article – I do think Circa is making a kind of intellectual critique of "the article."
I wouldn't say "kill" but rather – put it in its place.
There are certain types of stories best told in an article format. A good example would be narratives. Stories that can move you at a personal level.
But then we often use articles for commodity news when I think something might be better. That something, we hope, is what we are pioneering at Circa.
So it isn't about "killing original reporting and writing"?
No, not at all. Original reporting has immense value for all kinds of reasons I'm sure I don't need to go into for your readers. For four years at Spot.Us all I did was fundraising specifically for original reporting that might not otherwise happen.
But sometimes – I think there is information that is out there (take the debates last night) that can be summarized by doing original research, summarizing, contextualizing – without putting it in an article.
It's also important to note… killing the article and killing original reporting are apples/oranges. One could take the Circa model of "points" and no articles and use that as the format to convey original reporting. We aren't doing original reporting because we are a small startup with limited resources – not because it's logically impossible to use our method to do original reporting.
What do you and your journalists do? What does a day look like in the Circa newsroom?
On a regular day – we chat constantly – we try to identify "updates" to stories that already exist. For example – Lance Armstrong has some news today. But we are telling that story for a few weeks now. We don't think: "Hey we need to write an article about Lance and the news today" – instead we think: Is this about the same story of Lance Armstrong that we have going – is it different? If it's the same – how do we incorporate this new information into that ongoing story, etc.
Cool. What are your go-to sources?
There are the "classics" – think NYT, LAT, Guardian, Trib, etc etc. The Tech as Media sites: Google News, Yahoo News, etc. The aggregator sites: Prismatic has been a great channel surfer. Newser. I've been playing with Pulse and Flipboard on my phone a lot to think about reading experience. I still really love my Google reader – which is a mix-mash of many things.
How do you envision placing ads within Circa? Or do you have another revenue model in mind?
Ads are possible. In fact, I think they'd feel more native – could be called out better – etc. Each idea gets its own card – so we already have a different kind of space to play with ads if we went that route. We've talked about different revenue streams – but it's really not part of the conversations we are having now. For the moment we are really focused just on the reader experience and the news experience.