Lara Setrakian hopes her newest website, Ebola Deeply, shuts down in six months. While that might seem like a strange goal for any other new venture, it’s pure optimism for Ebola Deeply, the latest project from the team behind the single-topic news site Syria Deeply.
Hopefully, by then, the Ebola crisis will have passed and the world will no longer need Setrakian’s digital hub for information surrounding the disease. Now, however, as Ebola has spread to the U.S. and continues to infect people in Africa and elsewhere the media coverage has swung from inadequate to incoherent. “Ebola is hyped, but then also misunderstood,” says Setrakian, the founder of the Deeply news sites, and a former reporter for ABC News and Bloomberg. “There are real threats we’re not seeing. We really need to integrate more of the science, more of the expertise.” This Mic essay outlines some of the problems with the current coverage of the disease, such as misinformation and a misunderstanding of Africa. Or just take a look at Facebook. If your feed is anything like mine, it’s littered with stories from unreliable news sources and fear mongering.
Not all the reporting out there is bad or wrong, but with so much published, it’s hard to separate authoritative coverage from the junk. That’s where Ebola Deeply comes in.
Back in 2012, when Setrakian launched the first Deeply site to bring more awareness to the war in Syria, she said: “News has a big-data problem–there is so much content from so many places. Organizing information has become a major challenge and an opportunity to leap ahead with innovative news design.” She still very much believes that improving the user experience will benefit the way people understand complex and important issues. The information problems around Ebola and Syria are different, but the way forward is the same: one reliable source that covers the topic with authority and clarity.
With that in mind, Setrakian built the Syria Deeply site to be replicated for all sorts of topics. In fact, one of the organization’s revenue streams is providing white label products to other online initiatives by the World Economic Forum and the Global Ocean Commission, among others. And, in 2016, Setrakian plans on launching Arctic Deeply, with other Deeplys to follow.
Ebola Deeply uses the same platform as Syria Deeply and therefore looks identical to its predecessor, down to the font. The site takes a “transmedia narrative approach,” to use the somewhat jargony phrasing of the News Deeply team. The homepage, also known as the “dashboard,” showcases recent stories, an interactive case map illustrating the number of infections and death rates worldwide, Google Hangouts, videos, and Twitter feeds. With a bit more digging into the site, readers can also find a timeline and more content.
Editorially, Ebola Deeply will tackle information much like its Syrian counterpart, focusing on one topic, both aggregating the best reporting and adding much needed perspectives, including stories from survivors and original reporting. “If we tell the survivor stories, it goes toward reframing the discourse and narrative around this,” said Isha Sesay, a CNN anchor working with Ebola Deeply on its coverage. “Actually, people don’t have to die.”
About 25% of the site will showcase original stories from the 34 freelance reporters in Africa and the U.S. signed on to write for the site. Managing editor Kate Thomas lived in West Africa for several years covering health care. Ebola Deeply is also working with the Associated Press to beef up content. The project launches with an interview with the president of Liberia, and a Q&A with the president of Guinea.
The rest of the content will come from “strategic partners” and elsewhere on the Internet. “If there is something great on the Wall Street Journal, we will send you to the Wall Street Journal,” Setrakian said.
The award winning Deeply approach worked for Syria. The site has a 60% return rate, with people spending an average of eight minutes on the site per visit. That’s longer than readers remain on the New York Times, according to Alexa. Traffic varies wildly on a given day, but that’s kind of the point. Deeply sites cover topics like a super-human beat reporter, posting updates and news stories whether the topic is buzzy or not. Setrakian expects similar reception with Ebola coverage.
The News Deeply team measures success in more than just page views, especially because the site doesn’t depend on traditional ad revenue but a combination of live events, membership services, and advisory projects. Setrakian also wrote a book called The Startup Newsroom about lessons learned from the single-subject news project.
The biggest measure of success is helping people better understand and report on the crisis. “We’re not going to find a cure,” said Setrakian. “We do what journalists can do to help solve a crisis. We are not activists. We know that when we have better information, better things happen.”