Interview with Lara Setrakian, News Deeply, New York

Lara Setrakian is the Founder and Executive Editor of News Deeply. News Deeply is dedicated to advancing the user experience of complex global issues. The company’s inaugural platform, Syria Deeply, is an award-winning fusion of journalism and technology created to enhance coverage of the Syrian crisis. Largely based on the website’s success, Founder Lara Setrakian was invited to the White House in March 2013 to brief President Obama on the dynamics of the Syrian conflict and the state of the Middle East at large.
Here is our interview, where Lara tells where and how she started her successful career and shares some tips for Armenian reporters. Enjoy reading!  You were named a 2012 Young Global Leader by World Economic Forum and, according to Wikipedia, you are the third most followed Bloomberg personality on Twitter. Please share with us how you were able to create awareness and appeal to such a large audience? What is required in terms of communications to achieve such results?

Lara Setrakian: Wikipedia can be so kind! I was the third most followed Bloomberg personality, while I was on air for the network from Dubai. It was certainly helpful that I was on television at the time, which meant I was able to reach and connect with a widespread audience.

But I truly believe that what built my following, and what builds any following, is a commitment to deliver the greatest possible value and insight for one’s readers. I have always been dedicated to serving my audience with the best possible information, the most relevant and compelling news, in a way that is accessible to all. My job – really, my privilege – has been to translate global events and issues into formats that are easy to understand. In doing that, I have thankfully found a loyal audience.


Profiling a Young Global Leader - Lara Setrakian You are a young global leader and a Harvard College graduate. Many young Armenians would like hear perspectives from you. What kind of activities do you do to impact the Armenian youth globally? 

Lara Setrakian: My favorite activity in this regard is TEDxYerevan, where I was a speaker and now serve on the board of advisors. It is a fantastic organization, led by Kristine Sargsyan, that brings a world of speakers to Armenia every year. Even more impressive: Kristine runs children’s programs and translates TED talks into Armenian, so that young Armenians can have access to even more insights and powerful ideas. Syria Deeply was your first concept from News Deeply which Fast Company stated “As conflict rages in Syria, the news industry is in crisis, too. Lara Setrakian’s Syria Deeply is reimaging the business of story telling.”  How does your publication impact the issues regarding Syrian conflict and what do you consider your greatest impact/contribution on modern journalism?

Lara Setrakian: From the standpoint of the conflict itself, Syria Deeply focuses on the Syrian civilian story. While we aggregate and highlight issues in the political and military domain, our primary goal is to make sure that they stories of everyday Syrians do not get lost. To achieve this we work with more than a dozen Syrian journalists on the ground, sending us stories from their communities. We take their submissions in Arabic, then translate and edit them in English.

Our greatest impact, I’ve been told, is to prove that in-depth, single-topic platforms can be done. The news can be approached one story at a time. Because of this, we have been asked by Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism to write a book on the topic, to be released later this year. We are exploring the challenges of startup newsrooms and putting together the best practices, to help future journalists succeed in their endeavors. Hopefully they’ll learn from our mistakes!

Syria Deeply Indiegogo Campaign In December, 2012 you founded News Deeply. Please explain your startup concept and how you plan on expanding beyond to other topics. 

Lara Setrakian: News Deeply makes complex information much easier to understand. Through enhanced design and technology, along with a strong editorial methodology, we are able to craft content into a more engaging user experience. In our hour projects, starting with Syria Deeply, we use that methodology to highlight stories and issues that don’t get enough attention in the mainstream press. Often they are too complicated for the traditional media to capture.  With the success of Syria Deeply, we are planning to launch new topics pages, starting with Arctic Deeply. We also have Congo Deeply and Myanmar Deeply under consideration for 2015. Given the costs associated to in depth news analysis, how do you plan on creating a revenue model and profits?

Lara Setrakian: For the time being, we are running a business model of white labelling our platform – essentially selling our design, technology, and editorial services – to sustain News Deeply as a whole. In the future we plan to develop revenue streams around in-depth content by offering premium products and services, tailored to a specialized audience around each topic. Bloomberg TV, Business Insider, and ABC News your name is connected to true media giants. What kind of experience did you gain by working with such companies. 

Lara Setrakian: I have been extremely fortunate to work with all of these organizations. ABC News gave me my basic training in broadcast journalism, then let me develop those skills as a correspondent in the Middle East. The most important thing I learned there was how to write for television, putting words to picture, while honing my delivery of news and information.

Bloomberg Television was another wonderful education. I was able to report in greater depth on issues facing the Middle East, from geopolitics to economics, energy to regional security. The fact that Bloomberg is reporting for a business news audience set the bar extremely high for the quality of our reports. It was a blessing to work in that environment. There are many media outlets in Armenia, and many pursue careers in journalism, especially in Yerevan. What is your advice for Armenian digital media journalists? How can they improve their use of the new tech world and reach larger audiences?

Lara Setrakian: I would highly recommend that today’s journalists get in-depth knowledge of a single issue – a specialization in a particular field. Subject matter expertise is becoming a greater asset than ever in the newsroom. Second, I’d emphasize the need to fully understand the digital landscape, how people are consuming information now. Social media platforms are key. Understanding the basics of design and user experience optimization is a good idea. Online video has become a major force, while the internet as a whole has made it possible for any journalist, anywhere to have a tremendous impact and unlimited audience. Thank you for your dedication. We are sure our readers enjoyed your story. At the same time they can check your TEDx Yerevan Talk.