Readers who glanced at The Huffington Post’s homepage Thursday morning would have sighted a startling headline in the website’s signature bold type: “LEAKED: THE DRONE PAPERS.”
HuffPost ceded its prime real estate to a blockbuster series from The Intercept that evoked The Pentagon Papers in both name and purveyance. Titled “The Drone Papers,” the series offers a look at the Obama administration’s kill and capture program through a cache of secret government documents provided by an anonymous source in the U.S. intelligence community.
Like the Pentagon Papers, the drone revelations drew attention from multiple outlets shortly after their debut. The Huffington Post obtained permission from The Intercept to release a summary of the story timed to the launch of The Intercept’s articles. The synopsis, penned by Intercept scribe Jeremy Scahill, provides the broad strokes of The Intercept’s findings and links back to the publication’s entire report.
In recent months, The Intercept has embarked upon at least one similar arrangement with another news organization, said Betsy Reed, the site’s editor-in-chief. In September, Gawker published an essay written by Intercept co-founder Glenn Greenwald after 14-year-old Muslim student Ahmed Mohamed was arrested in Texas. If Thursday’s alliance with HuffPost bears fruit, The Intercept will consider repeating the experiment with other outlets.
By working with The Huffington Post, The Intercept hoped to broaden the reach and effectiveness of its journalism, Reed said.
“We recognized this was a big story, and we wanted to give it the widest possible impact and audience,” Reed said. “And given that HuffPost has a very significant audience that’s interested in this subject matter, we thought it would be a way to deepen the impact of the series.”
Did it work? As of Thursday, The Intercept hadn’t tallied traffic numbers for the drone package, but Reed noted the story was trending on Twitter and drawing interest from multiple news outlets. By Friday morning, The New York Times was linking out to The Intercept’s stories in its stream of must-reads on NYT Now, and the story was followed by Fortune, Mother Jones and Foreign Policy.
By allying with news outlets to spread its reporting, The Intercept joins a long-established tradition in the news business. Nonprofit newsrooms, such as the Center for Public Integrity, the Center for Investigative Reporting and the Texas Tribune have all teamed up with outlets with larger audiences to maximize the impact of their journalism.
Syndicating content allows The Intercept to garner attention a larger outlet might draw without requiring staffers to have a comparable publishing frequency, Reed said. Because the site is backed by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, The Intercept does not rely on advertising and thus does not need to maximize traffic with a spate of daily posts, Reed said.
“It’s very difficult to do a lot of original investigative reporting and keep up that volume that then translates into traffic,” Reed said. “We’re operating at a different tempo, so therefore when we have a piece that we believe deserves the widest possible audience, it makes sense to distribute it in different ways.”