'Stay long enough to be the defining voice'

A Q&A with Startups For News Winner

10 July 2014

Tell us about Coda Story. What is it?

Coda Story is a single issue platform that reports on crises. We all know that these days our attention spans are short but truth is: crises don’t end when journalists leave. But when it comes to crises massively important things keep happening after the spotlight has moved on – and sometimes precisely because it has moved on. That’s where Coda comes in, because we stay on the story. That’s actually our tagline. We are a single issue platform that focus on one crisis at a time for up to a year. We believe that by staying on the story for up to a year, we will be able to get better stories and to become the authority on a crisis, the ultimate go to place for people who want to understand what is going on. Existing media does a great job of breaking news, covering the onset of a crisis. Where we see a gap is in journalism that tells the story of the aftermath. What happened in Libya after Gaddafi fell? As news teams leave Ukraine to cover ISIS in Iraq, who will go in-depth to explain the consequences of that crisis?

Coda 3

How is it innovative?

There are of course single issue websites out there but Coda is different for a couple of reasons. First of all, our focus is on original journalism rather than aggregation. We have a very particular, thought-through editorial approach to our multimedia storytelling.  Because we make a time commitment and put a team of journalists on one story, we come into a crisis with a very focused long lens. That allows us to do stories which are important but which others may overlook in the pursuit of breaking news.

Coda does not do breaking news, we are there to provide context, depth and continuity of coverage. But in order to stay on the story we needed to think beyond standard approaches, to come up with a fusion of editorial and design that allows connection and context to work as hard as the content itself. When it’s not about the latest news what is the most important story?  When a story is written episodically, how can you read it? When a crisis evolves over weeks and months, how can you get an overview? These were questions that we were attempting to answer as we developed our prototype together with our brilliant design partners at Method, London-based company.  What we created together is a curatorial approach to storytelling, which allows a meaningful overview to be presented, a ‘way in’ to a complex crisis, through multimedia storytelling.  Coda Currents, the concept that we created, allows our users to dive into an individual story or get an overview. A current is an evolving theme in a crisis that helps give meaning and context to events. Currents are a way to navigate a world that can be confusing, and formless. Currents allow us to create context, while still focussing on intimate and personal storytelling. They allow us to make complex issues accessible. They are also our main navigation tool.

What does the name Coda mean? 

In music a coda is a distinct part of a composition, often towards the end, which defines the entire piece. In journalism we want to be that stand alone voice that helps to define a crisis. 

Can you explain to us the backstory? How did you come up with the idea?

As a team, we wanted to figure out how can we, in this age of short attention spans, find a way to focus on issues that are important without making them boring? For me it was one particular reporting trip to Yemen for the BBC that got me thinking hard about the flaws of mainstream media’s approach to covering crises.  I spent several weeks in the country, and I left frustrated, knowing that Yemen would disappear from our news agenda not because things weren’t happening but because because we no longer had anyone there. This is something I have experiences before and since.  But as we, the founders of Coda began to try and address this, another issue that came up very strongly and one  that I know many journalists will relate to this, was: how can we avoid the constant, never ending demand for content from the newsroom.  These days, we are always filing constant updates.  Especially if you are in broadcast, but for print too – appetite for updates is enormous. News, however doesn’t necessarily happen as fast as we want it to and sometimes there is a lot more value in taking a step back, investing in reporting. As journalist I know well that making ten phone calls instead of two will help me to produce a dramatically better copy. So we started discussing how can we approach foreign reporting differently so that journalists have an opportunity to dig a bit deeper, to soak in a bit more, how do we make nuance and complexity engaging and how do we get the most out of what digital age offers. It was out of those conversations that Coda concept was born.

How about the actual realisation? 

Well, we spent a lot of time on Skype between different time zones and flying across the world to meet up and create a strategy of brining Coda to life. It actually took an incredible amount of discussion to get to the point when we were happy with the concept.   Coda Story is a non-profit, of course with a sustainability plan that will hopefully generate revenue. This money will go back to supporting Coda’s mission: to provide deep, intelligent reporting on crises that shape our world. We are still in very early stages: we had seed money and support of our great design partners which allowed us to create a prototype and now we are entering an active fundraising stage to launch the full fledged Coda.   

What do you think pleased the audience at the GEN Summit?

People definitely responded to design and the storytelling format that we have presented, but what struck me was how much people responded to the mission. We had so many people coming up to us saying that this is exactly the sort of journalism they want to see more of.  This is very much in line with what we have been hearing outside the summit too.  Of course we were hugely inspired by the fact that people voted for us, especially given that competition was formidable. Some of the start ups who pitched their ideas at GEN were incredible and to be honest I didn’t expect us to win.  But the fact that we did, well to me that just illustrates that there is an appetite for thorough, high quality reporting which is both old-fashioned and incredibly well-suited for our digital age.

What are your plans for the future of Coda? 

We have a fantastic board of advisors who believe in Coda’s mission, including Paul Steiger, the founder of ProPublica, Liz Danzico, creative director at NPR, Tim Sebastian to name just a few.  We are also currently working on lining up partnerships with some of the mainstream publications. The plan is to get enough funding to launch a full fledged Coda and develop the concept further.  Eventually we want to be able to cover several crises at a time –but always with the same goal: to stay on each story long enough to be the defining voice.

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