Social media-first news agency Reported.ly faces an uncertain future after its funding was pulled despite explorations into how to monetise its unique approach to content sharing.
The US-based organisation is due to suspend operations on August 31, according to founder and editor-in-chief Andy Carvin, unless a new financial backer can be found.
Its team of five editorial staff, based across the US and Europe, are affected. A sixth team member has already moved on.
Reported.ly began life in 2014 after Carvin joined First Look Media following his success in reporting on the events in Tunisia playing out on social media that were to become the Arab Spring.
Much of the news about the revolution was first shared on Twitter as dissidents, who Carvin built as contacts, planned protests and reported on the outbreak of local conflicts.
His work over two years saw him nominated to Time magazine’s annual Time 100 list.
Carvin told Press Gazette: “The premise behind Reported.ly was to take some of the methodologies that I used in the Arab Spring and try to scale them across an entire newsroom.”
He said his role at First Look Media was to help them “figure out creative ways to use social media with journalism”, adding: “I was given a blank slate to come up with ideas.”
That included funding for a year with the proviso that once a successful news model had been developed, a look at ways to monetise it would follow.
“Part of the original mandate was to incubate journalism ideas and then have other members of staff focus on developing the business models for the journalism to support it,” said Carvin, 45.
“My mandate was to focus on innovative reporting and the original plan was to give us a period of time where we wouldn’t have to worry about generating revenue.
“Late last year we started mapping up potential [revenue] models.”
Much like recently disbanded investigative news agency Exaro News, multiple ideas were considered as possible means of generating revenue for the journalism at Reported.ly.
Carvin said these included selling software for social media searches, sending out premium newsletters for business and consulting with news organisations to teach social media reporting.
“We were working out ways to get revenue but we never got to implement any of them,” he said.
“We were funded and then if anything was working we would focus on how to monetise that. It was a bit of a surprise [to hear First Look was pulling its support].
“We knew there was a lot of politics involved in terms of deciding what investments would be made but there was never any discussion about shutting us down until they told us this summer that they were shutting us down.”
Reported.ly began life on social media, with a blog on blogging site Medium following before an official website was created. Much of the agency’s work is done on Twitter.
“Twitter is basically our office space,” said Carvin. “It’s where we conduct our business hours.”
He said the team’s individual Twitter accounts, alongside Reported.ly’s official account, were used to “curate a huge number of sources”. These are then monitored through lists of key accounts set up for most major countries in the world.
“We simply pay attention to the people reaching out to us because the community is very pro-active in telling us what they are hearing,” said Carvin, who has been working in online communities since 1994.
News brands such as Buzzfeed, NowThis and Storyful have all made social media the dominant platform for their work, but Carvin said he believed Reported.ly to be unique in not only publishing on social media first but also using it as its principal news gathering tool.
“There are different ways to use social media, whether it’s for trying to find sources or just content. But I think we were fairly unique in having social media at the centre of it all,” he said.
Reported.ly was first to report on the Paris terror attacks in November last year that claimed the lives of 130 people, claimed Carvin who said the team received a tip-off from a source who was in the city at the time.
But while it may put social media at the forefront of its approach to journalism, the team have also pursued longer form stories, such as reporting from the frontline of the refugee and migrant crisis.
For Carvin, journalism is still the focus. Not the medium on which it is delivered.
“I don’t see Reported.ly as some sort of social media gimmick where we are trying to prove to the world that you can do anything through social,” he said.
“We are social first in many ways, in terms of our reporting and publishing, but we follow the story where it goes and if that includes sending someone on a plane then that’s what we do.
“There’s a bit of a quandary here because what Reported.ly is really about is a reporting methodology.
“It’s the technical skill that we have as a team to conduct this forensic type of journalism.”
He added of social media journalism: “I think we are just scratching the surface of the possibilities.
“We [at Reported/ly] are just five or six people doing this on a relatively small budget and yet we have been able to break some major news stories.
“But imagine that on a larger scale – it could change the game in many ways.”