3 Lessons Journalists Can Learn From Circa

Roughly a week and a half ago, a new mobile app launched for iOS devices that may have a big impact in news circles – not just in terms of usage, but in how it may affect the way journalists and news organizations think about presenting the news for a mobile audience.

The app, known as Circa, is branded as “the best way to read the news on your phone.” As opposed to functioning like an RSS feed by incorporating entire stories for users or as an app providing short summaries to recap major news stories, Circa offers a snack-able alternative for story consumption.

Circa has more on this in a blog post announcing its launch:

“Instead of articles, Circa presents news as a collection of details about a story: the facts, stats, quotes, pictures, maps, and more. These are the full stories, not summaries; summaries tend to compress stories and therefore lose details. Instead, each story on Circa has the same details you’d find in traditional articles, but broken down into individual chunks of information that are much easier to consume.”

Here are three lessons news organizations can learn from Circa.

1. Full-length stories don’t always mesh with mobile. When people are on the go and they turn to their mobile devices for the latest news, more times than not, they are hoping to get a quick recap of stories. Someone who is checking their phone or tablet for a few minutes at a time is often not going to immerse themselves into a 1,000-word piece.

Mobile news is exploding, though, according to a recent Pew study which notes that 66 percent of tablet or smartphone owners get news on their devices. Although there has been growth, it doesn’t mean the mobile experience is always a positive one.

Circa exploits this growth in mobile, and the fact that there are not a ton of positive mobile news experiences available at this time, by offering major news stories broken down into chunks of easy-to-consume and easy-to-comprehend pieces of information.

Instead of treating mobile as a form of shovelware, moving all online content to mobile, many news organizations and its readers would benefit from rethinking this model by providing readers shorter, more concise content for mobile.













2. News organizations often assume readers have been following a story. This is hard to avoid for any news organization. As a story is breaking over multiple days/weeks/months/years, it’s difficult for journalists to reiterate all the past news when they are trying to push out the newest content.

Circa recently wrote a blog post regarding ongoing stories:

“The continuing investigation about what happened at the U.S. consulate in Libya on Sept 11th is an ongoing story.  If you didn’t follow the chain of events in Libya/Cairo and much of the Middle East that week – then the ‘ongoing investigation’ would seem like foreign speak.”

What Circa has done for these readers is provide related stories to connect a reader to one part of a story that they may not have been privy to at that point. For news organizations, the lesson here is that we don’t have to recap every single detail that has surfaced, but we can give readers a chance to catch up by conveniently connecting them to stories that can bridge the gap.

3. Think more about what news consumers want out of the mobile experience. I said this earlier – while we, as mobile users, are turning to our devices for news more often these days, many of us aren’t trying to engage in long pieces of content right that minute.

So what will draw in a mobile user? For me, I like snack-able pieces of information, compelling images, and interesting data. As someone who uses my mobile devices a ton for Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, I like the fact that these platforms provide a convenient way to quickly scroll through information. News organizations could potentially gain some new fans by finding a way to build stories out in this fashion, too.

Circa does this by providing what they call “atomic units of news:”

“Points in Circa might be facts, statistics, quotes, events and images … [T]he idea is that constraints about what can be included in a Circa story optimizes the content to be comprehensive, concise, and factual.  There is no ‘opinion,’ ‘deep thought,’ or ‘analysis’ atomic unit of news. Step one is simple enough – we break down the news into atomic units – providing clarity and saving the reader time.”

And in the end, isn’t that what our goal should be for the mobile news consumer – to provide as much information as possible in the limited time he or she is spending with their mobile devices at any one time?

Have you tried out Circa? What features do you feel like news organizations should be looking at more carefully? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.