The big news in online journalism circles this week was Circa's announcement that it was suspending its operations.
For the past four years, Circa has been at the forefront of the mobile journalism world. It revolutionized how we conceptualize news in the mobile space. Rather than links or full stories, Circa focused on what it called "atomized" news and frequent updates. The news was aggregated and written in quick-reading, just-the-facts style. You followed the stories you were interested in and got push notification updates when there was new news.
Truth be told, I always loved the idea of Circa much more than the actuality of it. For some reason, I never warmed to its style or its news delivery (I find myself relying on Twitter as a news wire more than anything else). Writing on The Verge, Casey Newton noted that Circa's core ideas sounded great in theory but didn't really translate to the way people are using mobile journalism (I do wonder whether Circa's genius and downfall was that it was a product we thought everyone wanted rather than one that people actually wanted):
Circa was cold and rational at a time when journalism was becoming more entertaining and emotional. A just-the-facts-ma’am approach to the news can be valuable in describing major breaking-news events. But those events are rare in nature, and the news organizations that are growing the fastest — BuzzFeed, Vice — excel at making their audience feel something every day. Circa took pride in being flavorless, and it showed in the product.
Still, Circa succeeded because it got news organizations thinking about mobile journalism in more concrete ways. Rather than just look at mobile journalism as "sending out our online edition for a phone" (kind of like how news organizations first viewed online as "sending out our print edition for a computer"), Circa forced the conversation in a new direction. Now, news organizations had to think about how mobile journalism is different than online journalism, rather than just "the web on a phone." It led, in part, to the development of NYTimes Now - which (this will get me excommunicated from the cool-kids' table at all online news functions) I always liked better than Circa.
And it got me thinking - what would Circa for sports journalism look like?
Circa's sports coverage was never very strong or compelling in my mind. That's not a criticism - it was focused on other things and had a limited staff. But looking at the whole board, I wonder what mobile sports journalism can and should look like.
Sports lends itself to mobile journalism. Often, the news is bite-sized and can be quickly consumed. Who's winning the game? Where is Kevin Love signing? How long is Tom Brady suspended for? The nuts-and-bolts, transactional news that so much of sports journalism is focused on is perfectly set up for the mobile format.
Truth be told, at the moment, Twitter and the ESPN SportsCenter app do a great job at providing this information to readers. But I wonder if there's an opportunity here - for Circa 2.0 or another company - to create a mobile sports journalism platform. One that takes the immediacy of Twitter and the speed of the ESPN app and adds more user functionality to it. More of a local focus, more location-based updates, finer-tuned notifications so only the important stuff gets through.
Mobile journalism isn't the future. It's the present. Circa got us thinking about that - that's the company's true success. Now it's time for all of us in the journalism world to keep moving that conversation forward.