At Circa We Write Stories, Not Summaries

In a recent blog post a Circa reader, Cap Watkins, noted something about our app that is at the heart of our philosophy to producing news.

With Circa, we’re finally seeing editorialized news delivery. Instead of just pulling RSS feeds from major news outlets and providing link lists, the folks at Circa take the time to curate and distill content. The result is a broad list of topics, each containing a limited number of bite-sized facts and information. The innovation here feels very obvious: Circa realized that if you want to go broad with your content, the display of that content needs to be shallow and digest-able, with the option to dive deeper.

Without a doubt there is an abundance of information on the web and a plethora of mobile readers. One response to the information overload has been to provide lists of links that take you to articles or provide summaries of the news.

We do neither of these.

It’s true, our content is concise, to the point and we provide links back to our sources. But Circa stories aren’t summaries. Indeed, stories can never be summaries – and we believe in stories.

We’ve talked about the building blocks of Circa stories, but let’s take one step back. Why stories at all? Why not just write a summary of each news article?

We feel it would be deficient. And we use that word  carefully. It’s not that summaries would be bad – but “deficient” (“lacking in some necessary quality or element.”)

Stories are living – especially Circa stories. They can branch and morph. If you follow our stories on Hurricane Sandy you’ll see this happen. Our goal is to express the ongoing story that is unfolding in the world in digestible chunks. We feel it would be deficient to graze over Sandy, a storm that could impact millions of lives across the East Coast, with a summary.

Summaries aren’t alive. They are more or less static and reflective only of the article they are summarizing. If you read two summaries of similar articles you’d still suffer the fate of news amnesia – two good summaries about Hurricane Sandy probably repeat themselves.

More important than the problem of repetition is that of scope. By its very nature a summary is a birds eye view of one article. But often it’s the subtle details in an article or the nuance across several sources that make a story come to life. This is how a reader gets informed. This is how a storyteller creates an experience.

Take Circa’s story about the recent New York child stabbings. The story made the front page of both the New York Times and LA Times among others. We broke down the story into the basic facts, quotes and images but we added one extra fact – something that many of the other stories didn’t and the readers that noticed it – appreciated it.

Fact:

“Another New York family was devastated by a stabbing the same night, but their case got much less attention. Firefighters tackling an apartment fire in the lower-income Kingsbridge section of the Bronx found a 32-year-old woman dead in a bathroom under a mattress that apparently had been set on fire; she’d been stabbed. An infant found in the bathtub was declared dead at a hospital.”

It was just one fact, but we added it to provide context about a story that seemed to grip the nation that morning – a similar crime occurred elsewhere in a less affluent neighborhood and nobody seemed to batt an eye. If we just went with a summary of the child stabbing, this fact never would have made the cut.

Because the unit of adding to a Circa story is precise, we are able to add the details that make a story pop. When discussing the split between the popular vote and electoral college we can easily call out the four other times it happened in history including the most recent (Al Gore v. George Bush) and what the difference was in the popular vote. Then we can zoom back in to quote a 2004 Barack Obama who criticized the electoral college process and whip back to 2012 for a quote from a GOP political strategist. Summaries skip past these details – but often it’s the extra statistic that somebody didn’t know which makes a story stick or the human voice in a quote that raises an eyebrow. The ability to zoom into the minute details of human life and zoom back out for the big picture can only occur if you are telling a story.

In short it comes down to “an experience.” It’s a word used earlier in the post – but one that we come back to over and over again. Learning about the world shouldn’t be a chore. It also shouldn’t be mindless. It should be an experience.