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June 7, 2022updated 30 Jan 2023 9:13am

Kamal Ahmed’s The News Movement doubles editorial staff with eye on original investigations

By Bron Maher

The News Movement, the social media-first news start-up founded by Kamal Ahmed and Will Lewis, has almost doubled the size of its editorial staff to 16.

Ex-BBC editorial director Ahmed (pictured) told Press Gazette the seven new hires will assist the publisher in creating original investigative work, and that US appointments will soon be announced.

The News Movement began publishing in beta in November last year and Ahmed cautiously predicted that the business might be able to launch fully in the autumn.

Ahmed, who serves as The News Movement’s editor-in-chief, said it had received over four million views on Tiktok since launch, and a positive response in particular for its explanatory videos.

Well-performing videos on the publisher’s Tiktok often explain the context behind major stories. One video with more than 200,000 views sought to explain how billionaire Elon Musk gained his fortunes. Another, with approximately 60,000, focused on the Wagner Group, the Russian paramilitary group that has figured regularly in coverage of the invasion of Ukraine.

“We’ve really seen, and I think this is the same for many news organisations, huge engagement with the conflict in Ukraine,” Ahmed said.

“We’ve had over a million views for a Ukraine explainer… explanation has shown to be successful. Keeping it very straightforward, telling audiences what is going on, never being patronising but also not expecting people to have watched the first five series of this story when we’re in the middle of series six, episode five.”

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Ahmed added: “We try and tell you all relevant opinions around an issue. So we’re not coming from one side or the other side – we are trying to give our audiences as broad a sense of the relevant opinions in this area and let them navigate.

“And we were very heartened – we did a piece on Amber Heard and Johnny Depp. And just one of the comments that we got back was just saying ‘This is so helpful because it’s not trying to say [what’s] right and wrong, it’s just telling me what happened and why.’”

Tiktok is currently the main focus and biggest audience-driver with 25,000 followers, but The News Movement is also on Instagram (2,000), Youtube (2,700 subscribers), Twitter (4,700) and Facebook (360).

Asked how the outlet was funded, and whether it was for-profit, Ahmed said: “We’re a business. We are fundraising at present – we will make announcements on that over the course of time.”

The business model for The News Movement ultimately sees it branching out further, Ahmed said. The start-up hopes to draw revenue from a mixture of platform advertising, data and analytics, partnerships with other media organisations and “opportunities for membership and for micropayments for our audiences that love, we hope, what we do”.

Ahmed suggested micropayments may be deployed on The News Movement’s website – which has yet to fully launch – to allow its platform-based audience to access in-depth content.

“We want to test new forms of enabling people to access information and deeper dives.

“We’ve always been clear that we want people to be able to experience The News Movement on socials, and that’s obviously a different type of relationship, but for deeper dives, for being able to see more in-depth content on subjects that you might be following, that you love, to be able to come to events – we’re going to explore micropayments, membership around that content.”

[Read more: How Kenya’s Nation Daily reaches 21,000 daily paywall subscribers]

The latest hires will allow the business to ramp up production of deeper, exclusive content.

“The new hires we’ve announced today are all UK-based. And from someone like John Simpson who has a fantastic track record thinking about crime reporting, but [also] broader investigations, we are building an originals unit.”

Simpson is joining from The Times, where he has spent 11 years as crime correspondent. The other hires announced on Monday were podcaster Mary Mandefield, freelance Sky News correspondent Jemima Walker, investigative journalist Kafui Okpattah, BBC News camerawoman and Tiktok creator Emma Bentley, BBC Click journalist Omar Mehtab and multimedia journalist Alpha Kamara.

Ahmed said the group will begin working at The News Movement in the coming months, and that “we’ll be making some US announcements in the next few days”.

The project intends to be ultimately transatlantic: although its journalists are currently all in the UK along with chief executive Will Lewis and chief operating officer Eleanor Breen, its president, chief product and technology officer, chief growth officer and head of audience are all based in New York.

Asked by Press Gazette how editing a social-first news organisation differed from his previous postings at places like the BBC and The Observer where he was political editor and executive editor, Ahmed said “Well, size, first.”

But, he said: “It’s a different beast. You’re working around social channels, and you have to listen very carefully – to my team here, [and] audience listening as well is very important. Taking signals about what the conversations are about.

“It’s a different set of skills, but – journalism doesn’t change. What are the facts? What is the context? What are the relevant opinions? And then what are the onward journeys, where can I go next to find out more? That doesn’t change.”

Nonetheless, Ahmed felt he had learned “a huge amount” about telling stories through social media in the year since he had begun working on The News Movement.

Previously more familiar with another platform (“I have the slight journalistic disease in that I do consume a lot on Twitter”), Ahmed said he is no longer as dismissive of Tiktok as he once had been.

“You realise there are incredibly clever ways of explaining issues using different methods, different styles and creativity. And I think that’s what I’ve most enjoyed over the last year… who would ever have thought sea shanties were going to suddenly become a thing and a way of explaining different types of stories? [Or] talking boats at the time of the Suez Canal problems.”

Had he managed to prevent himself losing hours to Tiktok’s infamously sticky algorithm?

“Now I’m disciplined on the time I allow myself,” Ahmed said. His chief tip on that front: “Don’t do it in bed.”

Press Gazette is hosting the Future of Media Technology Conference. For more information, visit NSMG.live

[Read more: Why Sky News, unlike the BBC, is embracing TikTok and Snapchat]

Picture: The News Movement

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