We’re hiring an associate editor
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 tough call on a big story
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:
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.
(Post by @corybe. Download our mobile apps here.)
Desktop alerts are here! We just rolled out a new update to our Windows 8 app that brings major Breaking News alerts to your desktop and tablet — even when you’re not inside the app.
As you can see above, a Breaking News alert has appeared on the upper-right of the screen. Depending on the news, we typically send one or two a day, focusing on the biggest stories. You’ll need to activate the notifications when you first download or update the app.
We’ve also launched a “live tile” that displays the latest breaking stories — smaller stories that we update throughout the day — on the Start screen. For more details about a report, you can pop open the Breaking News app and drill down to the source of the story. For our news partners, this will mean more clicks as Windows 8 scales.
Both of these additions make it easy to stay on top of the news in real-time with minimal interruption while you work. Download the Windows 8 app right here. If you have a Windows Phone, we have an app for that, too.
Breaking News launches on Windows Phones
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.
Why Twitter’s army of ‘Mechanical Turks’ will not conquer breaking news
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)
From a falling tree to mobile traffic records, a blockbuster 10 days at Breaking News
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)
Three Sandy rumors that circulated on social media: As you might imagine from a story of this magnitude, Sandy has sparked a torrent of photos, videos and other reporting from both the media and a large population armed with smart phones and Twitter accounts. The Breaking News team has been hard at work verifying photos and videos with our real-time curation (The Atlantic has a great collection of fake and verified photos), but we’ve also been investigating several rumored stories that circulated on social media and escalated at the height of the storm:
1. Three feet of water at the NYSE trading floor - It’s unclear where this rumor originated exactly — the National Weather Service says it was a mention in “broadcast media,” while Buzzfeed reports it came from a tweet — but the erroneous report ended up in the NWS internal chat tool. It was subsequently picked up by The Weather Channel’s Hurricane Twitter account and broadcast by CNN, triggering an avalanche of social sharing. (Poynter has a more in-depth look here.)
Our team was already scouring photos and videos in Wall Street, and we saw several tweets questioning the report. We decided to hold off and search for a confirmation:
Moments later, we discovered a tweet from Politico’s Ben White who said a senior NYSE official told him the report was false. Several other reporters, too, from CNBC, WSJ and the Weather Channel followed:
We then fired off a tweet to help spread the word:
2. Coney Island hospital on fire, patients trapped inside - This story wasn’t picked up by the media as widely as NYSE, but it generated quite a flurry on Twitter. It originated from the scanner — FDNY firefighters could be heard having trouble gaining access to Coney Island to respond to a report of a fire at the hospital:
Several others shared the link to listen to the FDNY scanner online, and sure enough, you could hear (as we did) firefighters attempting to negotiate high water to reach the hospital. The story suddenly became a dramatic rescue attempt with hundreds of lives in danger, and it quickly spread across Twitter. However:
We held off on this rumor as well — as with most media, we don’t share unconfirmed scanner traffic — and we shared the FDNY’s tweet that put an end to the drama. Turns out, as this local blog reports, the FDNY was responding to a car fire in the parking lot, which was extinguished before firefighters arrived. As the FDNY tweeted soon after, “There is much misinformation being spread about #Sandy’s impact on #NYC.”
(Slate has more background on how this rumor developed.)
3. Con Ed employees trapped in flooded plant after explosion - This story began with a flash caught on video and Reuters story about a rescue. The video showed an electrical explosion in Manhattan, and it was widely shared on Twitter. After Con Ed acknowledged an explosion at a substation in the area, we shared the clip on Breaking News, but we held off on any other news about the substation. While the clip is the real deal, Reuters reported that a full-scale rescue of trapped employees was underway, sparking another flurry of Twitter rumors. A couple hours later, Con Ed tweeted:
With any major story these days, the media will make mistakes, just as we have made in previous stories. Twitter served both as a rumor and truth machine, simultaneously spreading and debunking false reports, leaving some at wit’s end:
This is why we believe Breaking News — not just as a Twitter account, but as a mobile and online destination in its own — fulfills a key role in the evolving new world of journalism. You could argue that Twitter “self-corrects” in real time, but in reality, it isn’t always that fast:
Few Twitter users are following all the journalists that journalists follow, and many are left hanging when a rumor takes on a life of its own. Just as Twitter is important as a communications platform, so are the news organizations that verify social media reports — both on social media and on their own coverage platforms.
It’s always a good reminder that today’s news consumer should not live by social media alone — as Twitter would say, it’s an ecosystem.
- Post by @corybe
Breaking News geared up for Sandy
As a devastating storm nears landfall in the Northeastern US, Breaking News has staffed up to provide expanded real-time coverage, 24 hours a day. A storm of this magnitude – stretching across several states and hundreds of local media companies and government agencies – will produce an avalanche of information. Our editors are monitoring these sources in real time, and we’re filtering and publishing the most important reports as they’re made available. We’re also sharing the most impactful eyewitness photos and videos we discover and verify via social media.
While @breakingnews on Twitter will share the major highlights, we’ll be publishing a much higher volume of developments on our Breaking News apps and BreakingNews.com. For those in the storm’s path, power outages are a certainty, so our mobile apps as well as our dedicated @breakingstorm Twitter account – which can be configured to send SMS messages – will come in handy.
And, of course, we’ll continue our coverage on Facebook, Tumblr, Google+ and our other social channels. Stay safe everyone.
Using social media in newsgathering
journalism.co.uk has compiled 14 tips on how to find sources and stories using social media, including advice from our own Dave Wyllie, better known to most as @journodave.
Photo: Pedro Lozano on Flickr, via journalism.co.uk. Creative commons licence. Some rights reserved.
Our users are info addicts, finds survey
We just wrapped up a survey of our Breaking News mobile app users, and the results underline something we already suspected: many of you have a bit of an addiction problem with real-time information.
We asked when users check the app, and the responses went something like “all day long” and “every time I use my phone other than to place a phone call.” Someone even said they check the app at church. In all, 83% say they use the app outside the home, which is surprisingly high given the large chunk of Breaking News tablet users out there.
Our traffic stats certainly back up the addiction story: approximately 80% of our monthly visits are comprised of people who visit once or more a day.
Our users are not just information consumers, they’re also super sharers. Just over half (51%) say they share things on social media at least once a week, and 37% say they share one more times every day. That’s along the lines of what we’ve seen on Twitter: @breakingnews is one of the most retweeted brand accounts in the world.
By the way, we received lots of great feedback on possible improvements to our apps. The most common suggestion was a “scroll to top” feature, and we just rolled out a new iPhone/iPad update with just that. You can either tap the “scroll to top” button in the feed or make it happen automatically by throwing a switch over in settings.
Thanks to everyone who participated in the survey, and stay tuned for lots more app improvements to come!