June 14, 2017

“RIP fake deep web data reporting.”

That was one reaction Wednesday morning after Vocativ announced it was cutting its entire newsroom focused on technology and mining stories from the deep web.

The layoff was made in an organizational shift to an entirely video-first strategy, according to several reports published Wednesday and confirmed by now-former staff members. At least 20 people were affected by the staffing changes and potentially looking for new jobs, according to a Google Sheet circulating on Twitter.

A Vocativ spokesperson described the layoffs as a “strategic shift” in a statement:

Since its founding in late 2013, Vocativ has pioneered a new form of digital journalism using our proprietary technology to tell award-winning stories across a range of formats including on our website, social media and television. As the industry evolves, we are undertaking a strategic shift to focus exclusively on video content that will be distributed via social media and other platforms. The tremendous success we’ve experienced since our launch in both long- and short-form video has positioned us well for this evolution.

Vocativ isn’t the first publisher to cull its editorial staff to take advantage of the higher CPMs and sharability that comes with video production. Last year, Mashable announced a staff reorganization aimed at ramping up the company’s original video offerings.

Vocativ has already made major inroads in the video space. In 2016, Vocativ launched “Dark Net,” a TV series for Showtime that explored stories from the underbelly of the internet. That show was renewed for a second season in March of 2016.

In the past, unnamed employees at Vocativ have criticized the company in the press for peddling “deep web” technology that didn’t successfully produce story ideas. In 2015, executives at Vocativ told Poynter they believed in its potential as a storytelling device.

Vocativ published a statement on its website Wednesday headlined “Vocativ shifts to all video” that said the company was “tripling our investment in video and establishing a dedicated unit to create compelling video content, from mini docs to docu-series and feature-length films.”

We will distribute via social channels and platforms, as well as through partnerships with television networks, OTT players and others. Our new programming and partnerships — which we will reveal in more detail in the coming weeks — will be exclusive, global and technology-driven, focusing on both historical features and current events, as well as on subject areas in which we can deploy our IoT and deep web analytics technology, such as raw, unsceipted series and sports programming.

However, according to Alan Mutter, a Silicon Valley CEO and lecturer at the University of California at Berkeley, the notion that Vocativ will use its deep web technology in future video production is dubious.

“Vocativ is moving to video in hopes of attracting more eyeballs and ad dollars. This is a repudiation of its original ‘deep web’ content model,” he said in an email to Poynter. “A deep web project involves a significant investment in people and time, whereas video treatment can be cooked up rather quickly … You turn on a volume of content and you hope for the best.”

Support high-integrity, independent journalism that serves democracy. Make a gift to Poynter today. The Poynter Institute is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, and your gift helps us make good journalism better.
Daniel Funke is a staff writer covering online misinformation for PolitiFact. He previously reported for Poynter as a fact-checking reporter and a Google News Lab…
Daniel Funke

More News

Back to News