Less than 48 hours later, news began to circulate of a shooting at French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris. Reported.ly founder Andy Carvin hadn’t started his work day yet, but the outlet’s six-person staff, which is spread across multiple time zones worldwide, jumped into action. They first reported the shootings had been unconfirmed, then tracked down a video posted to Instagram that was geolocated near the magazine’s office.
“As soon as they saw that, they basically went into their ‘all hands on deck’ mode,” Carvin said.
Within a week of Reported.ly’s launch, Carvin and his staff had encountered the type of continuous breaking news situation their team was built to handle. Staffers had prior experience covering similar situations, including the Boston Marathon bombings, the shooting of former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and the massacre in Newtown, to name a few. They qualified and confirmed rumored information in real-time. And they were early to the story because they had staff members awake and working in Europe when it broke.
“As soon as I woke up this morning and heard what had happened, my initial reaction was, ‘Oh I wish I’d been awake from the moment it started,'” Carvin said Wednesday afternoon. “But then when I went to go check how my colleagues were doing, they were running the show as professionally as I’d ever want them to.”
The resulting effect, Carvin said, is something similar to the type of rolling anchored coverage typically seen on a broadcast network applied to Twitter and other social platforms. Except unlike other news organizations, which put boots on the ground in an attempt to unearth original information, Reported.ly pieced its coverage together by mining, geolocating and then verifying information posted online.
As has been reported, the news outlet doesn’t yet have a website. Instead, staffers have confined their updates to Facebook, Storify and Twitter. The staff is also using Medium as its online diary and is active on Reddit. Once a website is developed, the team will still prefer publishing to social channels over posting to its site, Carvin said.
Because Reported.ly has no central newsroom, almost every staff member works from home and communicates with the rest of the team virtually. The group has a live Google hangout running constantly so team members can call out news “like a barista” when they need to ask a question or announce their intention to share an update on one of Reported.ly’s various social channels.
“It’s as close as you can get to all of us sitting at a roundtable together, given the fact that we are spread out across 6,000, 7,000 miles,” Carvin said.
There have been some minor hiccups in Reported.ly’s coverage, Carvin said. Shortly after the story broke, a user of the popular social news site Reddit established a live blog with news of the shooting before Reported.ly staffers got organized, beating them to the punch. And staff members nearly double-posted updates simultaneously but caught themselves at the last second.
Reported.ly continues to report on the story, so Carvin hasn’t yet stopped to crunch audience engagement numbers, he said. The coverage almost certainly has room for improvement, but he won’t know exactly where until the staff debriefs to discuss strategy.
Carvin did have one big takeaway, though: coverage of the shooting reminded him of the importance of extensive preparation going into a big story. Because the team had a Twitter list of journalists throughout France before the news broke, they were able to better follow the story as it unfolded.
“You should never wait to go on social media the moment that it happens,” he said.
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Reported.ly staffers accidentally double-posted updates on social media. In fact, they came close but caught themselves at the last minute.