Circa, the mobile-only news service founded by Cheezburger Network CEO Ben Huh, announced on Tuesday that it is hiring Thomson Reuters social-media editor Anthony De Rosa to be the media startup’s editor-in-chief. Circa co-founder and CEO Matt Galligan said in an interview before the announcement that De Rosa will be building out the company’s editorial team, which will be based in New York rather than San Francisco, where the rest of the startup is headquartered.
De Rosa also said in a separate interview that he will be adding some new elements to Circa’s news repertoire — including a possible move into more traditional reporting. Galligan said that De Rosa was the company’s only choice for the editor-in-chief position, given what he has accomplished since he became the social-media editor at Thomson Reuters, and his status as a leading source of breaking news during events like the Boston bombings:
“I spoke with Anthony little over a year ago when we were getting Circa started, and gave him some ideas of where we were going, what our thoughts were about where we were going to take news. He was recommended to me by a bunch of people, because he’s always been on the forefront of thinking about this stuff and where news should move… we wanted somebody who could add editorial leadership but also push us forward.”
Reinventing the idea of a news story
As we described in a post last fall, Circa was founded by Galligan and Huh as an attempt to reinvent the news-consumption experience for a mobile device: it provides a summary of the top news stories in a number of categories — but unlike Summly, the news-summarizing app that was acquired by Yahoo earlier this year for an estimated $30 million, Circa’s story summaries are created from third-party news reports by an editorial team of human beings rather than by algorithms.
One of Circa’s unique features is that readers can “follow” or subscribe to a specific story and then get regular updates when there is a new development: instead of having to rewrite the entire story, the way many traditional news outlets do, Circa simply updates the existing entry and alerts users, who can then go directly to the new information. The feature is proving to be popular, Galligan said: during the Boston bombings, close to 30 percent of users subscribed to updates.
De Rosa, who has been social-media editor at Thomson Reuters since July 2011, said he was intrigued by Circa’s “follow” model, and also by other aspects of the service — in part because of a conversation he had with Huh at a media-industry event called NewsFoo before the company was even created. De Rosa said that he and the Cheezburger CEO (who was originally trained as a journalist) shared many of the same thoughts about the future of news.
“I was really interested in a lot of the principles behind it, and I think both of us share the ideals behind what Ben was trying to do — the concept of trying to transform the traditional article format, making articles more useful, thinking about presentation and timeliness, that was distilled into Circa shortly after that.”
Circa may move into traditional reporting
Circa came out of a broader news-reinvention project that Huh started called Moby Dick, which brought together a number of ideas about how news has to change for a digital and mobile age — including theories about how the traditional article format is no longer as useful a way of distributing information to news consumers, something journalism professor Jeff Jarvis and others have also written about (including Dave Cohn, the former Spot.us founder who was the founding editor at Circa and will now be De Rosa’s boss).
De Rosa said that in addition to helping build the editorial team — which currently stands at 11, some of whom are located in foreign countries so that Circa can have a 24-hour news flow — he wants to explore the idea of having Circa staffers do more of their own reporting, rather than just assembling stories based on reports from other news outlets. That extra reporting would likely involve calling primary sources to confirm information, he said.
“There’s no immediate desire to do original reporting, but that might be something I will push for — it doesn’t necessarily mean boots on the ground, but I definitely want to see the newsroom verifying information for themselves, so if we can contact primary sources and make sure that we feel comfortable about the information we’re putting out, I definitely want to ensure that our newsroom’s doing that.”
Both on Twitter and in comments to The Atlantic Wire, former Reuters.com editor Kenneth Li — who hired De Rosa — said that his departure was “heartbreaking” for the wire service. Former Thomson Reuters technology editor Peter Lauria (now at BuzzFeed) said something similar.
— Kenneth Li (@kenli729) May 28, 2013
— Peter Lauria (@peterlauria3) May 28, 2013
And De Rosa’s ultimate boss, Circa co-founder and financial backer Ben Huh, also welcomed his newest employee on Twitter:
— benhuh (@benhuh) May 28, 2013