Circa didn’t build up much of user base before it closed its doors in June due to a lack of financing, but the curated-news app did get a fair amount of attention in the media industry for its innovative approach to mobile news delivery. And now, the technology it developed will become the core of a new service that is set to launch in the spring—one that will focus primarily on video.
The man driving this new approach is John Solomon, a veteran journalist who until recently was the vice president of content at the Washington Times and has also worked with the Center For Public Integrity, a non-profit organization that specializes in investigative journalism.
In an interview with Fortune, he said that he sees an “enormous opportunity in the marketplace” for a mobile-first news app like Circa.
Sinclair Digital Ventures, the investment arm of TV station owner Sinclair Broadcast Group, acquired the technology and other assets of Circa—apart from all the people—earlier this year for $800,000 after the company ran out of money. That was quite a step down from the funding that had gone into the startup, which totaled almost $6 million by the time it had to shut down.
As I described in one of a number of articles about Circa, the company’s core insight was that news needed to be delivered differently on mobile, and that one of the ways to do this was to “atomize” the news by breaking it down into its component facts. When new developments occurred, Circa only had to add the new facts—and users could “follow” stories and receive just the new updates instead of all the background material.
Solomon said one of the most appealing aspects of Circa was this ability to break a story down into chunks, and allow readers to see either just the latest bits, or to drill down into the news for more depth.
“I think there’s a huge space in the market to create a mobile-centric, video-centric news service that doesn’t come with a point of view,” he said. “One that allows a new generation of consumers to drill down into the news, to see the documents and raw materials underneath it, and to be engaged in the news in a way that other sites aren’t able to achieve.”
Ultimately, Solomon said that he sees Circa employing as many as 70 journalists in multiple locations, both breaking news and investigative reporters, with video being a core element of the service. And in the long run, the new Circa CEO says that he expects users themselves will become part of the news-gathering process as well, through crowdsourcing of breaking news.
“I’ve long believed in the power of crowdsourced reporting,” Solomon said. “If you look at all the famous moments in journalism, there’s almost always an average citizen who has video that is unique. That kind of journalism can happen every day, and we can authenticate it—and that kind of engagement with viewers and users is really important.”
Solomon also said that Circa now has two things that make it more likely to succeed: One is stable funding from an investor with a long-term view, namely Sinclair Digital Ventures, and the other is a supply of video content from Sinclair’s broadcasting affiliates. That resource—which amounts to more than 150 local TV stations across the U.S.—will allow Circa to jump-start the service with video, Solomon said.
“That network essentially gives me the equivalent of the old CNN backbone of affiliates back in the day, or the old Associated Press backbone of newspapers, so we have that at our disposal, which is an incredible asset,” he said.
The news that Sinclair had acquired Circa and was planning to relaunch it led some to assume that the new service will be conservatively inclined, since Sinclair is seen as conservative-leaning, but Solomon said nothing could be further from the truth.
One thing that seemed to have been missed by many commenting on the purchase, Solomon said, is that the new Circa will be a separate, standalone entity at arm’s length from Sinclair. The broadcasting company “is a wise investor,” said Solomon, “and I think they know that new consumers of news don’t want to be told what to think. They want to make up their own minds.”
The key words in the announcement of the new Circa relaunch were “independent minded,” Solomon said. “We want our journalism to be independent and transparent. I spent 20 years at the AP, I spent time on the left with The Daily Beast and the Center for Public Integrity. Obviously the Washington Times is perceived as being to the right, but no matter where I’ve been I have tried to do the same kind of straight-forward journalism. And that’s what we want to do with Circa.”