We’re looking for a new addition to our Breaking News editorial team in New York. This is an associate editor position with an early morning start. If you’re a Twitter-addicted journalist with a knack for discovering stories before anyone else — and you’re the master of real-time, short-form updates — we want to hear from you.
This is a great time to join Breaking News. We’re about to unleash an exciting new product that reinvents breaking news for mobile devices. If you think breaking news is broken, help us fix it.
We’re a standalone startup team that works under the umbrella of the NBC News Digital Group — the first of its kind for a major news organization. To apply, head over to this page on NBC’s careers site. (Sorry that site isn’t mobile friendly. It drives us nuts!)
A day ago, we explained how we balance speed with rumor control at Breaking News. Then we were faced with a tough decision, challenging our convictions on a very big story.
Despite three major news organizations reporting an arrest in the Boston bombings, we waited. As a curation team that’s literally branded “Breaking News,” waiting is agonizing. We watched the tweets stream across the screen, but something just didn’t feel right.
"Lots of noise in the system right now," explained Tom Brew, who heads Breaking News’ editorial team. Added senior editor Stephanie Clary in our team’s backchannel chat, “CNN reporting arrests made, but still feel best to hold for a bit.”
CNN was alone on the story, and NBC said its sources maintained there’s no arrest. A short time later, Fox News reported an arrest, and the Boston Globe sent a short tweet, “Arrest in Boston Marathon bombing.”
As we occasionally see in situations like these, news organizations break a story sourced to the same person — or even sourced to each other. So I sent the Globe a tweet asking for clarification:
@bostonglobe Independently confirmed or passing along CNN’s report?— Cory Bergman (@corybe)
Moments later, the Globe updated to say they had sourced the news to CNN. “I think we’re good to keep holding,” Stephanie explained in the chat.
Then the story crossed on AP. That’s three major sources: CNN, Fox News and AP, which is typically the tipping point for Breaking News on a high-risk story. At this point, Tom and Stephanie were poised to report an arrest, but CBS joined NBC in citing sources denying an arrest had been made.
"I say we still hold," Stephanie said. "CBS local backing off, too."
I chimed into the chat, “Is there a way to attribute an arrest to some, and no arrest to others in a single update?”
"I think this is where we can provide clarity versus confusion, and just hold a bit," Stephanie wrote. "Because I think it’ll be more clear soon. No local orgs reporting it independently is odd to me."
Stephanie nailed it: moments later, House Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul said there was no one in custody. ABC reported “no arrest yet.” CNN began backing off on the air, which soon turned into a retraction.
In the heat of the story, Stephanie illustrated what makes Breaking News different. Twitter was a mess, rumors were flying on Facebook and Reddit was coming up with its own bombing suspects. As the only breaking news source that’s independent and agnostic in our curation — we don’t favor any brands, even those of our parent company NBC — we’re in a unique position to help bring a little clarity and order.
But just like any other news organization in this white-knuckled business, we don’t always get it right. We’re not better journalists, we just approach breaking news from a different angle. It’s an imperfect science, and it’s our policy to be massively transparent when we get it wrong.
Over the last couple years, we’ve talked to many people who were surprised to learn we have editors behind the scenes at Breaking News. “Oh, you’re not just another aggregator?” they’d ask, looking at our mobile app. Every update around the clock is published by our editors, I explain. We’re a real-time news service with an editorial filter, occupying a new space between free-wheeling social networks and the rich storytelling and context provided by new organizations.
In a world of intensifying information overload, sometimes less is more, and prudence pays off.
Got your hands on a new Window 8 phone? Or a Windows 7.5+ device? We’ve just launched the Breaking News app for Windows Phone featuring the same lightning-fast coverage you’ve come to expect on BreakingNews.com and our iOS and Android apps.
Our team of journalists scour the planet for breaking news, quickly sifting out unconfirmed reports and boiling it all down to a simple, straightforward feed of real-time news. You can track your favorite stories, browse the biggest stories of the day and drill down to the original reports. There’s no faster source of reliable news on a Windows Phone.
We’ve just launched the app, but we’re already working on an update: live tiles and notifications are coming soon.
If you have a Windows 8 tablet or PC, we have an app for that, too.
Twitter revealed this week that it uses Mechanical Turk — a crowdsourced pool of people — as an innovative way to help identify and classify search queries as soon as they’re trending. For example, the Mechanical Turks could associate the phrase “Big Bird” with a Presidential debate.
Twitter’s announcement prompted a tech blog to proclaim, “Watch out CNN, new Twitter search capabilities will rule breaking news.” The premise: if humans can help organize trending content on Twitter — perhaps in its Discover tab — then “why would anyone get breaking news from another source?”
But there’s a big distinction between trending content and breaking news. While Twitter’s Turks will help bring much-needed context to the platform, they’re not journalists who verify whether something is true. As we’ve seen with the shootings in Newtown, Connecticut and Superstorm Sandy, Twitter rumors ran rampant. Some rumors turned out to be true, but many were inaccurate or even malicious. Some were important, others were trivial.
At Breaking News, we rely on experienced journalists (that’s one of them, Stephanie Clary, above) to verify real-time reports and prioritize their importance. We also add context, associating reports with ongoing stories, topics and locations. But accuracy and importance — along with speed — are the essence of breaking news for any news organization.
Let’s take an example from Twitter’s own blog post: the tweet with a photo of Flight 1549 floating in the Hudson River from January 2009. Using Mechanical Turk, they would be able to associate that tweet with searches for “plane crash,” for example, as well as elevate it on its Discover tab. But Twitter won’t know whether the tweet and photo are real or fake.
It turns out that Breaking News’ Lauren McCullough discovered that tweet when she worked at The Associated Press, quickly verifying its authenticity (and obtaining permission) before it was published — the first news organization to do so. As it ran on the AP wire, hundreds of newsrooms picked up the photo, bringing a trustworthy story to the masses.
In recent years, Twitter’s platform has attracted a growing wave of eyewitness news reports scattered among a firehose of other tweets. Its audience is growing, too. Verification and prioritization matter more than ever. That’s one reason Breaking News exists: we provide a verification layer over the crush of real-time reports, boiling it down to what’s true and what’s important to you.
We believe Twitter is not a sweeping substitute for breaking news, but a complement. Some consumers get their breaking news from Twitter — that’s why @breakingnews is there — others get their breaking news directly from trusted sources. Others do both interchangeably. Twitter will not replace news organizations, but as it has, it will work in concert with them.
Just as Twitter is taking steps to become more relevant for its users, so are we. We believe breaking news is broken in many ways — a broadcast-style of journalism grafted to the web — and we’re working on a new version of Breaking News reinvented around the mobile device.
Stay tuned! (Post by @corybe)
Our heads are still spinning after covering a double-punch of big stories, starting with Sandy and ending with election night. One of our Breaking News editors even narrowly escaped serious injury — or worse — as Sandy slammed into Long Island:
But first, let’s take a look at the numbers.
Working around the clock, our editorial team posted nearly 3,000 updates on our mobile apps and BreakingNews.com over the last ten days, with about one-quarter of those appearing on Twitter. For Sandy alone, we boiled down an avalanche of coverage to 1,012 real-time updates over several days, linking original, verified reports from hundreds of news organizations and eyewitnesses on the scene.
Breaking News’ mobile traffic soared 50% and downloads jumped 130% — setting a new record by a long shot — but even more interesting is the fact it skyrocketed over desktop traffic by a surprising 3-to-1 margin. We’re not just mobile-first anymore; we’re mobile-dominant.
Perhaps it shouldn’t be so surprising given the sea change of news consumption toward phones and tablets. Martin McClellan, our senior designer, says his 75 year-old mom is “hooked” on checking her iPhone for news. She even blogged about her experience checking the Breaking News app in the middle of the night for election updates.
"Come on, only people under thirty take their iPhones to bed with them," wrote Marilyn McClellan. "I’m am definitely not in that generation — but, there you have it, my confession!"
While mobile traffic surges, keep in mind that BreakingNews.com’s desktop traffic is no slouch, ranked #1 in Google for the search term “breaking news” and drawing a big spike during Sandy and the election. But the increasingly old-fashioned desktop is no match for combined mobile app and web traffic, especially as tablet use continues to explode.
Through all of this, we can’t be more relieved that Lauren McCullough, our supervising editor, survived a terrifying experience when Sandy made landfall on Long Island. “A tree crashed through my parents’ living room where we were all sitting tonight,” she emailed us at 1 a.m. “The roof came down on us, but we’re all fine and were able to get out of the house.”
Lauren was able to communicate with us — and send us that amazing photo above — because she escaped with her iPhone. “Miraculously (or telling), I was holding my phone when the roof collapsed and the tree came in, and I must have kept a life grip on it,” she emailed.
Mobile phones have becomes lifelines during big stories, both for people in the thick of the news and others experiencing it from afar. At Breaking News, we’re invested in making the mobile experience the fastest, most reliable source of news when it matters most.
(Post by @corybe)