Since it was founded five years ago, digital media company News Deeply has expanded its portfolio of single-issue web publications to provide original reporting, context and analysis on five topics: the Syrian conflict, the Arctic, the California drought, the refugee crisis and, most recently, the challenges faced by women and girls in developing countries.
News Deeply's flagship platform, Syria Deeply, launched in 2012 to cover the Syrian conflict with reporting from its team of journalists, as well as stories written regularly by a network of contributors and community members.
Syria Deeply's core team is made up of three staff members based in Beirut, who publish between four and five original stories per week. The number of contributors to the site varies between seven and twelve, and this fluctuation is due to the fact that conditions in Syria sometimes prevent journalists from filing an article every week or every month, said Alessandria Masi, managing editor of Syria Deeply.
Contributions from journalists in Syria and members of the community range from articles to opinion pieces, Q&As and pieces written by local and international experts, and all the stories go through Masi before making it onto the site.
The outlet publishes an executive summary every morning, reviewing the most important events to have happened in Syria in the last 24 hours. The round-up usually features short descriptions of three stories and five recommended articles from other publications that are covering the conflict, and Syria Deeply also has editorial partnerships that allow cross-posting of stories from other outlets on its site and vice versa.
"Being able to cover Syria every day and having a team of reporters who are experts on the topic lets us go incredibly in-depth into all of the issues going on, whereas a wire or a more mainstream media outlet needs to give you a more basic story because they never know the level of information a reader is coming to them with," Masi said.
The goal is for the website to be a hub for everything that is happening in the country, which is why all the stories are categorised by topic, such as 'displacement' or 'opposition groups and rebel forces'. Contributions from community members, researchers or policy makers have their own section on the site, and there is also a space where readers can learn about how the conflict started, what factors have shaped it in the last years and how it relates to other countries.
There are two ways in which Syria Deeply has been able to plug the gaps in coverage of the conflict, Masi said. One of them has been featuring more Syrian voices in the reporting, and not just by interviewing them or using them as fixers, but by employing reporters inside the country and enabling them to tell their own stories.
The other way has been creating a diary section, in which regular contributors are given a platform to write about their day-to-day life in Syria.
"Our current diary writer is in Damascus, so she writes every time the situation permits about daily life like trying to rent a studio apartment, watching the news or going on a road trip with her friends, but it's some of the most powerful stuff we have because it really brings readers into her house and her life."
Since Masi joined Syria Deeply in May 2016, the outlet started publishing more longform analysis and pieces that help situate the Syrian conflict on the geopolitical stage, as she felt there was a need for a more informed and in-depth look at the "different scenes it is creating in the region".
"You can read a story about a book fair that happened in Damascus two weeks ago, but you can also read a longer, kind-of meatier piece about how Assad's propaganda has been very influential in the war, or how the forced evacuation system they've been using has been very effective, so we're mixing these daily, granular stories with longer analysis and it's doing incredibly well."
Syria Deeply's audience is predominantly international, and one of the advantages of being a single-issue news site is the ability to draw from the community's expertise on the topic, she added. Often the feedback readers provide consists of story suggestions or areas they think the team should be covering, which "really feels like sharing ideas and brainstorming with a community".
The challenge for Syria Deeply, Masi explained, and for anyone covering the conflict, is navigating the amount of information that comes out of the region and putting together all the "bits and pieces".
"You're never really sure where information is coming from and some of it is vital, so it's important... to pick out what's true and what we should be highlighting.
"The same goes for our Syrian contributors – we can get a very specific view of one town in Syria [from them], but when the story gets to us, what we try to do is pull it back at the end to give more of a bird's-eye view of the situation in the whole country."
When it first launched, Syria Deeply used Google Hangouts to conduct and broadcast interviews with academics and activists, including one with former US Secretary of State John Kerry, and Masi said Syria Deeply is looking into other platforms to host live events and panel discussions, and it's also aiming to expand on podcasts.
Speaking to Journalism.co.uk in June 2016, News Deeply founder Lara Setrakian said the company streamlined the technology and design approach of all its websites and it plans to add more topic-based editions in the future, including pop-up web publications to cover a specific issue on a temporary basis.
"Covering the same issue every day and having a team, even though it's only three of us, allows us to see stories, make connections and gain insights that somebody who has to split their time between other regions might not be able to see," said Masi.
"It can come even from our social media platforms, and it's amazing to see how many connections we can make between these issues just by covering Syria every single day."
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