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by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Newsbeat Social is lead by Tyler Peterson, COO, Irina Filippova, EVP and Stanley Fields, CEO.
The new currency of social media is minted in the keyboards of users, but

the news content has to come from


Now, a modest company out of Northwest Portland has big plans to grow into a global news network.

You may have stumbled across NewsBeat Social’s addictive little news videos on Facebook, which is their main distribution network. Always preceded by a 15 second video ad, they last exactly 60 seconds and attempt to boil down one story of the day into what the company founder, Stanley Fields, calls “news snacks.”

It could be a protest abroad or a scandal at home. Or it could be a freaky animal video, such as a desert mouse taking multiple stings to the face from a scorpion. (The video is marked “YouTube Michigan State U.”) The rotting whale that washed up in Newfoundland, or the carjacker who hung from a speeding New York taxi for eight miles. Putin. Obama. Snacks.

The fare is served up in a 10,000 square foot newsroom and studio at 3123 NW Industrial St. Previous tenants included the Big Pipe engineers (who painted everything yellow), and the production team of Portlandia. In a soundproofed studio that doubles as the mess hall, a giant green screen hangs down the wall and curves along the floor. Anchors such as Molly Riehl and Genelle Padilla read rapidly from an iPad acting as a teleprompter, into a $5,000 Sony EXMOR HD camera.

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - On Wednesdays she wears pink. Molly Riehl, a news anchor at Newsbeat Social, delivers her script in the studio of Newsbeat Social, an online news organization based in NW Portland.NewsBeat Social is doing something right, since it has 1.4 million likes on Facebook. The team of 25 full-time employees produces around 50 clips per day, monitoring the wires, downloading from YouTube and local TV news wesbites and rapidly repackaging it all for Generation Like.

Advertisers have likes too: they like knowing the age, sex, tastes, search history, real names and location of their target audience, something Facebook has mined with spectacular success. The NewsBeat Social model is to sell embedded video ads in the stream, in a player that doesn’t crash. Fields won’t reveal any of the terms of playing in Facebook’s “walled garden” however.

“We have data that show how many Facebook feeds we’re in,” says Fields, who is a generation older than his colleagues and happy to point it out. “It ranges from 140 million to 267 million in a month, and that peak was this January. We are pleasantly surprised at our hockey stick growth,” he adds, referring to a steep line on an imaginary chart.

His core team are Moscow-born Executive VP Irina Filippova and dapper director of operations Tyler Peterson from Portland.

“Our journalists are taking what they do very seriously because thousands of people are viewing their work,” says Filippova. “There’s no room for error in sixty seconds.” She adds that the service is popular globally, in part because the news is unbiased, and part because there is a hunger for English language news. “People are still learning English from TV, and they want the global view of the world without bias.”

A recent story about rape on college campuses shuttled back and forth between B roll and stills of campus protests, screenshots of the website Not Alone, and a Google map of the US. The anchor, Adam Spencer in Washington DC, spoke alone in front of his own green screen, while the relevant images appeared behind him in final video.

Sometimes the projected backdrop is a bank of TVs, like you’re watching a national news channel.

“We’re committed to building the largest news service that’s exclusively online,” says Fields grandly. “Our goal is to have 36 bureaus around the world.”

Right now there are seven anchors and two field reporters for three bureaus. “The bureau is just a $15,000 backpack,” he says of the gear that anchors sometimes tote from home to coffee shop to strategic point in view of the White House or the UN. “But it meets the BBC benchmark for broadcast video. They are one-man bands.”

The company is advised by Reese Schonfeld, a founder of CNN. Peterson tells how the old cable news guy told them they had one satellite truck in 1980 and had to choose whether to drive it Miami to cover the Cuban boatlift, or to Washington for the Mount St Helen’s eruption. “It was a different world back then,” he says, amazed.

So why would anyone even attempt to compete with the BBC and CNN, which has news gatherers everywhere?

“The BBC has a legacy cost structure that they can’t easily unwind. Ours is roughly 50 times lower than a legacy broadcaster,” says Fields.

There’s a startup feel to the operation: free meals, ping pong, a Zen room for retreat from the screen (although it has another big screen in it.) There being not much to do in the neighborhood, the company hosts a barbecue on Fridays at noon, in part to lure talent. NewsBeat Social is hiring. Fields has 1,700 applications in his inbox.

Upstairs in the newsroom, that video of the anchors talking is walked up on an XD card and is edited by one of nine editors. Eric Keto, the Senior Editor (“Because I’ve been here the longest,”) describes how the files fly back and forth while he manages the workflow at his standing desk.

Such a system could not have been done this cheaply five years ago, he admits, because of the required processor, bandwidth and software quality. “Adobe Final Cut Pro X only just came out,” he says of his software workhorse.

A few feet away assistant video editor Ben Schile is working on an obit of the actor Bob Hoskins. He works from a script, which includes YouTube links. He forages for those clips online, taking up to seven seconds of each as the Fair Use law allows, but he has the freedom to choose another, his personal favorite, that he likes, a snippet from “Hook.”

Schile used to edit minor sports for local TV.

“It’s better to be ahead of the curve,” he says. Asked where he gets his news, he says NewsBeat Social, and seems sincere. He hasn’t watched TV news since high school. If he’s not at work, he scans Google news and picks headlines accordingly. He never reads a paper.

The anchors originate many of the stories. Something catches their eye, they write a script and send it down the line to be illustrated. On this Wednesday Riehl and Padilla are wearing pink for fun, it being 10 years since the movie “Mean Girls” came out, with its immortal line, “On Wednesdays we wear pink.” They sit opposite meteorologist Flash Lagoo (real name Jeremy) who puts out five-day forecasts for different cities around the country.

“He knew he wanted to be a weatherman when he was five, he used to read it into a banana,” says Fields, who watched his demo reel and hired him on the spot.

He likes passion. “There’s a mission here, at 11 am on a Tuesday morning you can feel the energy in here.”

Nearby at another standing desk is Lauren Melink. She spends her entire day on Facebook, much of it manually posting clips. They are spread out to about every 35 minutes. Science and tech plays well in the wee small hours.

Fields is tight lipped about who his investors are. The main one is “a media mogul that owns a very big global publication.”

The rest are angel investors, lawyers, accountants, people Fields has in his “web.”

One walks in as we are talking, John Grout of the Grout (construction) Company. Grout says he’s more in it because he believes in the mission of changing journalism than to make a quick profit.

Peter Stevenson is NewsBeat Social’s Managing Editor. Fields says Stevenson could have got a job anywhere, since his father is Deputy Foreign Editor of the New York Times. “But he drove from DC to work here. He chose us.”

Stevenson Junior spends his days making sure NewsBeat Social doesn’t miss any big stories that drive global news cycles, while keeping enough light fare coursing through the Facebookers’ veins.

He gets his news from The New York Times, naturally, and from Twitter. He likes its immediacy. “Twitter gives so many perspectives you have a chance to weed out the bad.” He says that when aggregating news, “Sometimes that means confirming things with multiple sources. We’d rather be right than first.”

Impartiality is a tool to keep people reading and commenting. The editors do not want to be seen taking sides left or right in the USA, or to be culturally insensitive on global stories.

“Facebook’s platform gives viewers a chance to say what they think,” says Stevenson. “We want the discussion (in the comments section) to be not about our coverage but the news itself. They can take the facts and draw their own conclusions. We want Likes and Shares, but we really want the deeper level of engagement that comes with Comments.”

What’s not to “Like” about that?