VICE, Mashable, Digg and others form a collective for breaking news about Ukraine, may expand into other areas

A group of six news organizations and digital-media outlets — including VICE, Mashable, Digg, Quartz, Mother Jones and NBC-owned Breaking News — have created a somewhat unusual collective effort aimed at reporting breaking news about Ukraine, an effort they are calling #UkraineDesk. For the moment at least, the venture consists of just a common hashtag that all the different entities have agreed to use, which is then pulled into a similarly-named Twitter account, but some of the players say if it works they may expand into other areas.

The Twitter feed was launched on Tuesday, along with a short introductory blog post from Jason Mojica, the editor-in-chief of VICE News, who said that the goal of the project is to “deliver distinctive and original reporting by the participating sites” about the upheaval in Ukraine, and to bring together “smart, distinctive coverage [to] provide the broadest view, and the smartest perspective.”

To get a little more background on how the collective effort evolved, I talked with Drake Martinet, the head of platform for VICE News and an adjunct professor of journalism at Stanford and Columbia. He said the group came together after some of the editors at VICE thought they should reach out to other digital-native news organizations that were doing interesting or valuable work reporting on Ukraine, and see if they could collaborate in a way that was mutually beneficial.

Ukraine Desk

“The groups involved came out of a pretty simple brainstorm,” Martinet said in an email message. “What orgs are doing smart, new-guard, digital-first reporting related to Ukraine, which ones are doing it in a way that is distinctive, and who do we think would be up to participate in a light and fast experiment?” That was several weeks ago, and after a meeting at a coffee shop/bar/gallery frequented by VICE staff in New York, the project was launched with the common hashtag:

“We got the group together for a drink and said we’d like to do something, and that the easiest way to start doing something was to just start doing something… the hope is that our combined users will be better informed by getting a broader and fuller picture of the situation in the Ukraine through this effort. It’s a big story with lots of facets [and] everyone involved has a strong, distinctive voice.”

A source who was at the meeting but didn’t want to be identified said that at least some of the members of the collective are “hoping to take this past just the hashtag” and find other ways of collaborating on other topics or approaches. “We’re all like-minded in our embrace of digital innovation, and we want to tell the story of the Ukraine crisis in new and interesting ways. And we all have differing skill sets and bring various elements to the table that work well together.”

In a brief phone interview, Mashable editor and former NYT staffer Jim Roberts said that he doesn’t know where the venture will ultimately end up: “It is my desire that this is more than a hashtag play, but we are taking it one step at a time… I think we’re all contributing to a body of knowledge in a way.” A somewhat similar effort called Climate Desk pools the efforts of Mother Jones, The Guardian, Huffington Post, The Atlantic and others.

Whether the group does other things together or not, it’s definitely an interesting effort: VICE is known for its hip videos, Digg is a traffic-driving aggregator (which has also been experimenting with original content), Mashable is a social-media giant that has been doing more serious news since former Roberts joined the company last year, Mother Jones is a site known for its biting political commentary, and Breaking News specializes in mobile and real-time info.

In some ways, it’s a little like the venerable news-wire Associated Press, which was formed by a group of newspapers in New York in 1846, as a way of sharing the costs of reporting on the Mexican-American war. The difference is that all the partners in this effort are digital-first, and it’s just a Twitter account — at least for now.

Post and thumbnail images courtesy of Thinkstock / triloks