How to Break News

breakingnews-15_600Feeling stressed over how to deal with social media in a disaster? You’re not the only one, that’s for sure. We already talked about how the media was dealing with how sped up news dissemination has become, and how they’re failing to keep up. This change isn’t a small one. It won’t require that a small change in how we, or the media, do business. Social media will bring about a fundamental rethinking of how we do everything; breaking news is just the first area where the effects are really being seen.

As we try to figure out how to integrate social media, it helps to look for people that are already using it to great affect. And, in my mind, you can’t get much better than the folks who run the @BreakingNews Twitter account (and website and apps). They started up with a few folks, editors, they call themselves, around the world who monitor online news sources. When something newsworthy happens, they are able to pick up on the local alarm bells and announce it to their global audience. They got so good at doing this that they were eventually bought out by MSNBC. (The article I’m going to link to says that they’re given complete autonomy at MSNBC, and they even have their own editorial and technology teams.)

Last week, BreakingNews General Manager, Corey Bergman, was interviewed by the tech site, The Verge, on how they’ve not only succeeded and got to where they are, but also the unique way that they approach the news. It’s an enlightening read for anyone interested in the future of media, and also drops in a few tips about how breaking news might affect government communicators.

You’re called Breaking News — do you feel pressure to be first? How do you balance that with accuracy? The Boston bombing story obviously tripped a lot of other outlets up.

With us it’s interesting — there’s pressure to be second. When someone breaks a story all eyes are on us to see if we’re going to cover that story. So there’s definitely a balance between speed and the ability to verify that something is real. And there are a number of factors that come into play. What source or sources have broken that story? What’s their track record? What are other sources saying? How likely is it to occur? What’s the history of stories like this?

There’s also a gut check. Does it feel right? If there is anything that doesn’t feel quite right we’ll wait a little bit. In this business it only takes a minute or two for others to chime in and others to begin reporting on it. So if there is any doubt about the truth, we’ll wait a beat.

Bergman also talked about the need for a sizable team that can be scaled up as needed–something NO government has today, unfortunately.

Running alongside that, all these different streams of information are coming in from Twitter and the wire services, and all the live feeds we’re watching. We’ll divvy up people to watch different live feeds, and as they began to discover new pieces of information they’ll put it into real-time chat. So one editor is in charge of making the call, and he or she is watching all these different discoveries come in from Twitter, and on the chat.

What you’ll notice running through the piece is the absolute focus on “getting it right.” They’ve realized, as a platform, that their reputation for ALWAYS getting it right is their most important currency. That’s their value added. They confirm.

It’s a lesson we all could learn, I think.

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