Andy Carvin launches social-media reporting team for First Look

There’s been a lot of news out of First Look Media recently, although not the kind that the site was hoping to deliver: instead of scoops, it’s been a stream of reports about mismanagement and departures of key writers and editors like Matt Taibbi and John Cook. But despite the turmoil, former NPR staffer Andy Carvin says he has been hard at work hiring social-media “anchors” for an innovative global reporting team at First Look — a team that he launched on Monday.

The venture is called, and in a nutshell it will be doing an expanded version of what Carvin (who I consider a friend) did for NPR during the Arab Spring uprisings in Egypt and subsequent news events: the half dozen staff he has hired will be embedded in a variety of social platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Reddit and using them to report in real-time on breaking news stories and other important events. As Carvin put it:

[blockquote person=”” attribution=””]”So many media organizations just use social media as a way to promote their content. Not many people are thinking of these places as living and breathing spaces where they can discuss the news directly with the people who are there. We want to try to serve those readers where they are, and do native journalism on those platforms.”[/blockquote]

A global team of anchors

The Reportedly team includes Malachy Browne, the former news editor at Storyful, who will be based in Dublin; Marina Petrillo, an Italian author and journalist, who will be based in Milan; freelance journalist and programmer Asteris Masouras, who will be based in Greece; Kim Bui, formerly of Digital First Media, who will be based in Los Angeles, and Wendy Carrillo, a former radio host and producer who will also be based in L.A. Leading the team will be Carvin, who is based out of his home in the suburbs of Washington, D.C.

[pullquote person=”Andy Carvin” attribution=”Andy Carvin” id=”898782″] We want to try to serve those readers where they are, and do native journalism on those platforms[/pullquote] As he described it to me in an interview prior to the launch, Carvin sees the team members as being like anchors or producers whose medium is the social platform they are embedded with. He has called what he did on Twitter during the Arab Spring being a “disc jockey” for news — pulling out facts and highlighting conversations, doing some real-time factchecking but mostly just using this new social medium to tell engaging stories about breaking news events.

[blockquote person=”” attribution=””]”We’re going to be holding conversations with users on Twitter and Reddit to talk about what we want to do — most of the first month will be dedicated to establishing connections with those communities and discussing how we can serve them. And we’re also going to try and bring as many as we can into the fold to help us create journalism.”[/blockquote]

Because the idea of Reportedly is to have journalists or anchor/producers embedded in different social platforms and engaging directly with users there, the project doesn’t have a website yet, although it will be getting one. Carvin said that to begin with, the team will be using a Medium collection to talk about how the experiment is unfolding, and to brainstorm about the kind of journalism they want to do. But in the future, he hopes there will be a site that can act as a “central dashboard” where readers can see everything.

The buddy system

Carvin said the team will be structured as a “buddy system,” in which two of the anchor/producers will be working at one time — so he and Marina will take a shift, followed by Kim and Wendy, then Malachy and Asteris, and so on, so that the project will be able to cover as many time zones as possible. As stories emerge, more than one or two people could be pulled into it to help sift through the conversations going on on the various platforms, Carvin said.

[blockquote person=”” attribution=””]”We want to dive into some of the biggest global stories like ISIS and Syria, Ukraine and Russia, Ebola and public health. But we’re not trying to be breaking news organization that will cover every breaking story around the world — and one of the things we want to do is get a sense from these communities of what they want covered and what they think isn’t being covered well.”[/blockquote]

Carvin said that the team have already started reaching out to journalism-related groups or users within the different platforms, including the moderators of the Syrian Civil War sub-Reddit and other sites like Grasswire and Bellingcat from investigative blogger Eliot “Brown Moses” Higgins. But Carvin also said fact-checking news reports was just part of what Reportedly wanted to do, and that the major focus would be on “working with the public to tell more diverse stories about what’s happening around the world.”

I asked Carvin for his take on the recent turmoil around the departures of Taibbi and Cook, and reports of micro-management at First Look, and he said he and his team haven’t experienced anything like what the staff of The Intercept wrote about in their story on the upheaval, although he did say that the explosion of coverage of those events made it hard for the members of the Reportedly team to keep their heads down and focus on what they were doing.

[blockquote person=”” attribution=””]”It’s been an ongoing challenge within First Look to find a culture that complements the personalities and skills that have been brought together, and there’s always a certain amount of conflict as you figure that kind of thing out. But getting these issues out in the open as the Intercept team did has actually been very good for the process. We would have all preferred if it hadn’t played out that way, but it’s certainly not stopping any of the work we’ve got planned.”[/blockquote]