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'We call it breaking views' – how LinkedIn's growing editorial team shapes its news feed

Covering the most powerful media companies to the smartest startups, former Independent media editor Ian Burrell examines the fraught problem of how news is funded today. Follow Ian @iburrell.

On the very site where The Guardian was produced over three decades, a new 21st century news operation is being developed with big ambitions.

Here on London’s busy Farringdon Road are the UK offices of LinkedIn, the tech giant that made its name as a vast online repository of CVs but has developed into one of the great content platforms, with news – and especially business news – being a key driver.

Guardian journalists would recognise the Betsey Trotwood, the pub across the street to which many would head after banging out their stories (by typewriter) for the old broadsheet. But not much would be familiar about the media operation going on where their newsroom used to be.

LinkedIn, though, is very serious about news. It has grown its editorial team to 65, serving 17 markets in nine languages. The audience, potentially, is vast: there are 28 million LinkedIn members in the UK, among 675 million globally globally. In total, they generated 358bn feed update views last year.

The task of the LinkedIn newsroom is to keep those members coming back to the site to read the stories and topics it publishes in the ‘Today’s News and Views’ column, which appears in the top right of the screen, and in the ‘Daily Rundown’ newsletter which goes out each morning. The content combines smart observations from members with articles shared from other publishers.

Most of all, these editors want to motivate users to post their own comments and articles, bringing forth the deep well of professional expertise which sets apart the LinkedIn user base with those of the other social media platforms.

“Because it’s all tied to your professional identity people want to weigh in on things that are going to help elevate their own professional brands, so the level of discourse you get is extremely high quality,” says Katie Carroll, who as LinkedIn’s managing editor, UK, and Daily News, Americas, is responsible for a dozen editors split between New York and London.

LinkedIn has avoided the scandalous content and poisonous abuse that have so often damaged the user experience on Facebook and Twitter. Generally speaking, its members are on their best behaviour. But it needs the urgency of news to make it an essential daily habit, providing insights that can be valuable currency in the workplace.

“We call it ‘breaking views’,” says Carroll of LinkedIn’s position in the news landscape. As a big story happens, her team looks to give prominence to the appropriate professional experts. “We can be in a situation where we have an Uber executive, an Uber driver and an Uber rider all in one topic and have those perspectives laid out very clearly for people to learn different things from.

That’s where we try to differentiate ourselves, enabling the people who are sharing those insightful things to have that visibility…”

LinkedIn’s main newsroom is in New York but the UK and Australia play important roles in the daily output. “London and Sydney end up being kind of hubs for us,” she says. “It’s part local and part follow-the-sun coverage. In this office we set up the day for the US and Canada, and we focus on the UK.” She reports to John Abell, LinkedIn’s New York-based head of news, US, UK & Canada.

The New York operation has specialist editors dedicated to individual work sectors such as healthcare, financial services and software engineering. The platform’s relationship to news is very much entwined with the world of work. The UK team is especially interested in the retail sector, which generates high levels of user engagement.

When Thomas Cook collapsed in September, putting thousands of jobs in jeopardy, LinkedIn went into overdrive, even sending a team to the travel company’s Peterborough headquarters to advise staff on how they could use the site to improve their prospects.

“I think that was frankly a no-brainer for us because it affects a huge number of UK workers,” says Carroll. “That was one we definitely jumped into and I think the most incredible thing we saw was how many former Thomas Cook employees were sharing their thoughts (on LinkedIn), talking about their experiences, and then how many other members within the community were jumping

into those conversations and saying, ‘We will help you out with your resume’, ‘We have ideas for jobs’. We were able to gather those within multiple trending topics to give increased visibility.”

High-profile changes in the jobs market are a chance for LinkedIn’s editors to get a conversation started. Emily Spaven, the UK news editor (a tech and finance specialist who previously edited the UK tech trade title UKTN) recently met with 25 former MPs who lost their seats in the general election. LinkedIn gave the ex-MPs career advice. “I coached them on how to post content on LinkedIn, what to post about and how to engage with their audience to further boost the reach of their content,” she posted on the site.

After Brexit, LinkedIn encouraged a series of departing British MEPs to write for the platform on their plans after Brussels. While politics is not a subject that the LinkedIn editors focus on greatly, Brexit itself offers big content opportunities due to the likely impact on professional lives.

“We are always looking with the professional lens to any story that we are thinking about,” says Carroll. “That’s incredibly broad. It can be workplace culture, how to get ahead in your career, the future of work…”

While machines and algorithms are crucial to determining what appears in a member’s feed, LinkedIn’s approach to editorial puts a premium on human judgment. Carroll refers to “the golden gut” as the means to identify the content that’s selected for the News and Views. “The thing that is special about our operation is that we have human editors across the globe who know these markets and have a sense about what that high-quality post or content is going to look like.”

She heads a London team that is expanding to five editors. LinkedIn’s 65-strong global team has increased from 25 in two years, with 30% of hires being in Europe. There are three editors in Amsterdam, two in Italy, two in Spain and others in Paris, Berlin and Munich. London-based journalists have arrived from The Wall Street Journal and CNBC. The global team has also recruited ex-staffers from Bloomberg, HuffPost and Wired.

They work according to a ‘3 Cs’ model: creation, curation and cultivation. The creation element includes “original reporting, video features, interviews…”, says Carroll, who recently produced a list of the UK’s top 25 startups based on LinkedIn data including jobs growth and jobseeker interest. London’s Monzo Bank topped the list.

Tech is a big subject for LinkedIn. News that UK startups attracted £10bn in funding last year prompted a special report, including cultivated input from industry experts such as tech industry influencer Russ Shaw and Ryan Browne, a tech journalist with CNBC. LinkedIn editors also look across the site to curate the best insights on a topic generated by members. “We are constantly scouring LinkedIn itself to figure out what topics are resonating with people,” says Carroll.

More expert opinion content comes from LinkedIn’s invite-only influencer programme, which has around 500 high-profile contributors including London mayor Sadiq Khan, Richard Branson, James Caan and financier Helena Morrissey.

Video is becoming increasingly effective on the site. At last year’s Cannes Lions, LinkedIn hosted a series of live videos with leaders in marketing and advertising. Another project, titled ‘#OutOnLinkedIn’, was planned by the US and UK offices to coincide with last year’s Pride month. “We asked members to share their stories about coming out at work. We interviewed a lot of high-profile people within the LGBTQ community,” says Carroll. “Once you see members weighing in and sharing their own stories it continues to snowball, we ended up with incredible stories that we could gather within a trending topic and showcase more broadly.” Contributors included Star Trek actor George Takei, Ralph Lauren chief digital officer Alice Delahunt and Stonewall UK’s Sanjay Sood-Smith.

The UK office’s ability to generate its own work-orientated new content will have a significant boost with the imminent launch of a British version of the LinkedIn Workforce Report, which is currently published monthly in the US and offers deep insights into industry trends based on LinkedIn’s own trove of data.

Disruption and the confusion it causes is inevitably a central theme for LinkedIn and its users. “People want to figure out how to anticipate the changes that are coming, so we are constantly looking for great perspectives and stories about that to guide people,” says Carroll.

News has, of course, been more disrupted than most industries and LinkedIn, with its fast-growing output, represents a new challenge to traditional media. Carroll, who is speaking in an office dedicated to the Oxford Gazette, which in 1665 became the first newspaper to be written in English (the Linked In offices are themed to inventions), talks of how closely the platform is working with the traditional media sector, especially trade titles.

What is undoubtedly true is that news can be a big help to LinkedIn. “One of the benefits of news is that [LinkedIn] becomes a place that you return to every day, multiple times a day, because things are constantly happening,” Carroll says. “Change is moving so quickly but there’s a great (opportunity) for us to be the place to turn to to help navigate all that.”

Ian Burrell's column, The News Business, is published on The Drum each Thursday. Follow Ian on Twitter @iburrell

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