How Mashable’s UK editor stays ahead of the digital curve

26 Jun 2017

Anne-Marie Tomchak on-stage at the Web Summit 2015. Image: Web Summit/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Mashable UK editor and Inspirefest speaker Anne-Marie Tomchak knows how to catch a digital wave. She spoke to Claire O’Connell.

Given her track record, you will be well advised to take a close look at what Anne-Marie Tomchak is doing now. The Irishwoman, who is currently the editor of Mashable in the UK, has been at the forefront of new waves in digital media over recent years.

From mobile journalism and social media trends to hyperlocal news, Tomchak has helped to pioneer new approaches that at the time are cutting edge, but quickly morph into standard issue for the rest of us.

‘My editor asked me to fill in and it was like a movie. I grabbed someone’s blazer and presented live’

Learning the craft

Tomchak, who will be onstage at Inspirefest in Dublin next week, started learning her craft with a degree in communications, film and broadcasting at Dublin Institute of Technology and went on to do the master’s in journalism at Dublin City University, which offered a work placement as part of the course. “I really wanted to do the placement in RTÉ and it worked out,” recalls Tomchak, who spent three months working in the newsroom and being mentored by Sean O’Rourke, among others.

After the placement, she continued to work at RTÉ and to learn from household names such as Anne Doyle and Eileen Dunne, and then moved to London to work with the BBC.

“I was nearing the end of my twenties. I had no major ties and going to London was very appealing. So the plan was to go for a year and then come back,” recalls Tomchak.

Trending news

But life had other plans, and Tomchak quickly found her feet at the BBC, producing, directing and making the most of opportunities to adapt and grow, such as the time a presenter was out sick on the first day of a programme she was producing. “My editor asked me to fill in and it was like a movie. I grabbed someone’s blazer and presented live,” she says. “It was such a buzz doing live broadcasting.”

Her talent for presenting caught the attention of a commissioning editor for BBC Trending, which launched in 2013. “At the time, it was a new area, looking at news trends online, trying to contextualise it and find out who was the person who started this trend, what is it about, is it organic or are there other forces at play,” explains Tomchak. “It sounds basic now, but at the time it was cutting edge. They wanted me to pilot the video format and I became the face of BBC Trending.”

‘We are generally much more cognisant that things are being engineered and published online in a way that is not transparent’

Social influence

Tomchak was no stranger, though, to the growing influence of social media on news and the importance of video online. “I had been doing things with social and mobile video and, in the BBC, I had been encouraging people to post videos to Facebook,” she says.

Her work has also uncovered disturbing trends online – such as the use of Instagram to market illicit drugs – and ‘fake news’, including debunking the ‘Syria hero boy’ video, which had been completely set up and filmed elsewhere. “That [checking] is part of the day-to-day now,” she says. “We are generally much more cognisant that things are being engineered and published online in a way that is not transparent.”

Mashing it up

Tomchak moved on from Trending to work in BBC current affairs, particularly on short-form ‘microdocumentaries’ that drilled deep. Then she moved to Mashable, where she works with a team she describes as “super-creative”.

So what are they doing today that could become the standard of tomorrow? “I think we do mobile video exceptionally well and we recently launched Mashable Reels, premium vertical video content that is in a league of its own,” she says. “We have also developed Velocity, [a technology] to track what is building up and going viral, it mines millions of URLs and processes them.”

‘Timing is critical for certain stories but you need to add something to it, not contribute to the cacophony of noise’

And that balance of deep content in a rapid news cycle is a balance to get right. “The news cycle is very fast, but you also need to take a step back and foot off the gas,” she says. “Timing is critical for certain stories but you need to add something to it, not contribute to the cacophony of noise. There are some things we will spend a lot of time producing – I could work with a journalist on a long-form for weeks – and there are other stories that you have to hop on, or else the wave has passed. Making that call, it is a challenge.”

Tomchak is also excited about the recently launched Mashable Snapchat Discover for the UK and Ireland. “It is a localised edition. We are going to be producing content for the Snapchat audience in this region in a way that is hyper-relevant to them,” she explains. “That is major for us and it says a lot about the direction of media catering for specific audiences.”

Widen the circle at Inspirefest

One of Tomchak’s guiding principles is to “step out of the bubble” and broaden her horizons socially and professionally.

“It is easy to get caught in your own echo chamber, so I go to conferences on lots of different topics,” she says. “It’s a great way to get access to the greatest minds and get up to speed in what other organisations are doing, and you get to meet new people and build new relationships.”

She is looking forward to coming home to Ireland for Inspirefest as a speaker. “I have heard so much about it, and I like that it is a conference of inspirational women who are there not because they are women, but to talk about what they are doing.”

Inspirefest is Silicon Republic’s international event connecting sci-tech professionals passionate about the future of STEM. Book now to join us from 6 to 8 July in Dublin.

Want stories like this and more direct to your inbox? Sign up for Tech Trends, Silicon Republic’s weekly digest of need-to-know tech news.

Anne-Marie Tomchak image: Web Summit/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Dr Claire O’Connell is a scientist-turned-writer with a PhD in cell biology and a master’s in science communication