Skip to content
Jun 12 / King Kaufman

Circa Blog on capturing the shape of the world, not a snapshot

There’s a lot of high-brow academic talk in this post on the Circa Blog about the thinking behind the mobile news app Circa. I mean, the post is headlined “Mona Lisa stopped smiling–A Conversation on the Phenomenology of News” and the 43rd word in the post is “taxonomy.”

Full disclosure: I’ve been working in news for almost three decades, and I’ve spent zero time thinking about the phenomenology of it. Whenever I try all I get is this.

But I think there are some thoughts in the post that even those of us who fell asleep in the back of philosophy and art history classes can take back to our writing.

The Circa Blog post launches from one headlined On elephants, obsessions and wicked problems: A new phenomenology of news, by Gideon Lichfield, global news editor at Quartz.

“Instead of fixed beats,” Lichfield had written, “we structure our newsroom [at Quartz] around an ever-evolving collection of phenomena—the patterns, trends and seismic shifts that are shaping the world our readers live in.”

Lichfield defines many of these phenomena as “wicked problems,” a policy term that, put simply, means an ongoing problem that’s not just difficult or impossible to solve, it’s not even easy to define. The Circa Blog gives global warming, the war on terror and gun control as examples of wicked problems.

The Circa Blog then gets into a comparison of journalism to art, in the sense that, as the “first draft of history,” as it’s been famously called, journalism traditionally captures a moment. But that doesn’t always capture the “shape” of the world:

Like all paintings, however, articles are flat with only the illusion of three dimensions. Subject to interpretation, but never alteration—paintings and most journalism are a process of seeing light and capturing it like a mirror. It is reflective. Even the “live-blog” with its Pollock-esque emotional truth, a flurry of words, eventually comes to a rest.

But the world doesn’t rest…The next day Mona Lisa stopped smiling. The day after every article, circumstances change. At Circa we want stories to model the shape of world. The world moves—and so must our storylines.

That starts to get into Circa’s organization and format, which it describes as “comprehensive yet concise news updates paired with a clean, simple mobile experience.”

But regardless of the format, that idea is an important one: Stories evolve, the world is in motion even after you’ve captured a moment of it in your story, graphic or video.

That used to be an unfortunate fact that we had to live with. We captured the shape of the world as best we could in the newspaper, and as soon as we put that edition to bed we began work on the next one, trying to create the best snapshot we could the next time the presses rolled.

Now, we have real-time content. The “next edition” is the next time someone reaches for their phone, which happens millions of times every minute. What are we doing to give that person the best view of the shape of the world we’re covering at that moment?

And I really mean at that moment, not five minutes ago. Because five minutes ago is just so five minutes ago.

  • digidave

    This was awesome. I can fully admit the post is a bit heady and academic (guilty as charged). But I’m glad you feel there is something to be taken away regardless ;)

    Rock on!

  • Scott Harris

    Good post!