twitter-journalism

Keep your friends close and your enemies closer. That’s the mantra behind a rather unusual move on the part of Quartz, Mashable, Digg, Mother Jones, and Breaking News Online. They’ve teamed up with VICE News — in what is a downright dull experiment by VICE’s usual standards — to run a joint Twitter account based on news of the crisis in the Ukraine.

Sources at Twitter told Pando they think this is the first time any media organizations have run a joint Twitter account together, although since the platform is so large Twitter couldn’t 100 percent confirm it.

At first glance it seems like a potentially detrimental arrangement. Why would media competitors, who are already fighting over advertising dollars and viewers’ eyeballs, choose to willingly throw in with their rivals? VICE News’ Drake Martinet tells Pando it’s all in the interest of readers.

I think that Ukraine is a complicated story and there’s a lot of different components to it,” Martinet says. “The organizations in this group are all doing compelling, unique, original coverage in their own way. [The Twitter account] allows people to follow along and get a more complete picture.”

This is part of the VICE playbook — experimenting with new forms of content consumption, for better or worse. VICE has refused to follow along with the masses, instead taking big risks on things like high quality video content, or stunts like the infamous Dennis Rodman-North Korea moment. As Sarah Lacy has detailed, it is the digital company that many new content startups wish they could emulate. And it has managed to rake in a huge valuation while staying true to its own edgy, uncouth style.

So it makes sense that VICE organized what is possibly the first ever joint Twitter account run by competing media organizations.

“A couple weeks ago we were sitting around the newsroom shortly after our Ukraine coverage and thinking, ‘There’s a lot going on in Ukraine…and there’s a lot of other smart takes out there, so what could we do to compile them?’” Martinet says. “We checked our collective rolodexes and thought, ‘Who is doing interesting reporting on Ukraine and who do we know would be up for an interesting experiment?’”

Since most of the companies that are part of the partnership are scrappy-ish digitally innovative companies themselves, they were motivated to join in. The extra exposure, I’m sure, was an added plus. Quartz, Mother Jones, and Mashable target different audiences with different focuses, so it’s not the same as Mashable teaming up with, say, TechCrunch and Pando. Leveraging all six brands to distribute content could introduce readers of each platform to new authors and publications.

The account — @UkraineDesk — is set up to automatically tweet any story coming from the partner publications’ Twitter accounts that has the hashtag #UkraineDesk. No one editor will control the account.

“Personally, I’m always excited when we can come up with something novel and bring something new to the Internet,” Martinet says. “That’s what’s awesome about working on the Internet.”

In the bigger context of VICE, this fits with the publication’s bigger goal of disrupting traditional media, mixing models up, and world domination. One predictably unpredictable experiment at a time.

[illustration by Brad Jonas]