It’s not often a newspaper sends its chief sports correspondent to a restaurant to cover an Italian chef cooking up a feast for the homeless, smack bang in the middle of the Olympics.
But that’s what The Independent did in Rio this month, a freedom it can enjoy now it no longer has a print newspaper. Its motives: to capitalize on interest around an earlier story which caught fire on Facebook, where it has 5 million followers.
The story was “Rio 2016: International chefs cooking surplus Olympic food for city’s poorest residents,” and made its author — The Independent’s newly installed New York-based reporter Feliks Garcia — the seventh-most engaged-with writer for Olympics-related content on Facebook, with 355,000 comments, likes and shares, according to NewsWhip data.
The follow-up was an iPhone-filmed video and feature “Rio 2016 Serving up the the Olympics’ vast vat of wasted food for those homeless who need it.”
“We’re a very different system now that everyone is focused on digital. We can be more flexible, whereas print was quite restrictive,” said The Independent’s editor Christian Broughton. “Once we saw Felik’s story go crazy on Facebook, we knew we could send our chief sports writer Ian Herbert, who has the traditional journalism skills and print background. So he brings a certain solidity and value that some of the digital media startups out there don’t have,” he added.
The Independent still has 100 journalists and an open-access mantra, which makes international scale a must. It has started the ball rolling in the U.S., where it is hiring its first reporters. It’s also planning to open bureaus in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and continental Europe.
“Facebook has been the gateway to the U.S. for us,” added Broughton.