Anthony De Rosa, the public face of Thomson Reuters' social media efforts, is leaving the company to join Circa, a mobile news startup, as its editor in chief. The move returns De Rosa to his roots in the startup world, but also reinforces that Thomson Reuters' push into digital didn't go precisely as planned.
For De Rosa, it's a return to his startup roots. He originally joined Thomson (prior to its merger with Reuters) as part of Taxstream, a software company that acted as "a TurboTax for really big companies," in De Rosa's description. While working for the merged company's digital team in 2011, he was promoted to social media editor, reporting to Kenneth Li, editor of Reuters.com. With large followings on on Twitter and Tumblr, De Rosa had demonstrated an ability to use social tools in news reporting, making the position seem like a natural fit.
It's clear that De Rosa leaves Reuters feeling frustrated with how the position evolved. While conversations with Circa and its co-founders began during a series of meetings over a year ago, the social media team faced turmoil when Matthew Keys, De Rosa's deputy, was indicted for allegedly assisting the hacking of another news organization prior to starting at Reuters. According to TalkingBizNews, both De Rosa and Li were reprimanded by the company for not promptly telling Reuters executives that Keys' home had been searched by law enforcement officials. In that same time period, Li left moved to a new role with Reuters that, as yet, doesn't have a title.
Neither De Rosa nor Li blames the Keys events for De Rosa's decision to leave, although, in a telephone conversation, Li indicated that he wasn't surprised by the move, saying he'd known De Rosa had "thought about it for a little while." De Rosa's enthusiasm about joining Circa, which has about 20 employees, betrayed his frustrations. "I'm looking forward to getting back to a startup," he said in an interview, noting that it offered "less internal politics." Being with a small company "allows you to do a lot of things you can't do inside corporations." De Rosa repeatedly indicated that he'd pushed for additional staff, noting that other organizations, like The Times and the Huffington Post, had far larger social media teams than Reuters. At its peak, the team had three members: De Rosa, Keys, and Margarita Noriega, who holds the position of community editor. "If they're serious about making [social media] a focus of what they're doing," he said, "I hope they're serious about putting people behind it. It's not something that you can do with one or two people." The fallout from the Keys affair, he said, might be that the company would be less interested in growing that department. (Earlier this year, Jim Roberts took a buyout at The New York Times and became the executive editor of Reuters Digital. He is currently De Rosa's supervisor.) At Circa, De Rosa will manage a team of 11 writers and reporters who are located around the United States, in Beijing, and in Beirut.
Circa's flagship product, announced last October, is a mobile app that offers bite-sized summaries of current news stories and uses push notifications to allow readers to customize news alerts on various topics. Co-founded by Ben Huh, CEO of The Cheezburger Network, the company doesn't indicate how many people have downloaded its app, but it's clear the company has not yet reached the "massive vision" that CEO Matt Galligan described to TechCrunch at its launch. In an interview, Galligan explained that De Rosa was "the only position they considered for the position." Galligan sees De Rosa's role in two ways: focusing on improving the company's editorial vision for how and what it covers, and to build Circa's breaking news capabilities. During his time at Reuters, De Rosa has focused on breaking news, creating a series of liveblogs and Twitter lists meant both to inform followers and, as he put it, to "get someone who's been in the newsroom for 20 years and thinks Twitter is a waste of time to see the value." At Circa, it's safe to say, he'll face fewer people who fit that description.
After about six years at Thomson Reuters, De Rosa says that he "had the itch to move on and do something different." At Circa he'll also have the chance to do more news reporting and writing as well as guiding the team in its push. "I feel like I'll be less shorthanded and be able to carry out the things I want to do," he said.
Li was far less measured in his response. After we spoke on the phone, he called back. "Anthony leaving will be an immense loss for Reuters," he added. "We built a small team and we coached the entire newsroom on what it means to be engaged in social media. Now he's leaving, and it's heartbreaking."