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June 20, 2016, 10:54 a.m.
Mobile & Apps

Breaking News wants you to use its app to share news tips with its editors — and other users

“When we find stories in the early stages very quickly, it expedites coverage in other newsrooms as well.”

Less than a minute after a 5.2-magnitude earthquake shook Southern California at 1:04 a.m. on June 10, tips began pouring into the Breaking News app.

BreakingNewsTipsLast month, the NBC-owned Breaking News added a geo-tipping feature that lets users alert other users and Breaking News editors to news that’s happening nearby.

By 1:05 a.m., Breaking News users from Anaheim to San Diego had posted tips to the app. The Los Angeles Times posted its first story, written by Quakebot and based on information from the United States Geological Service, at 1:09 a.m.

BreakingNewsFireTipsIn the first 30 minutes after the earthquake took place, 136 tips were submitted to Breaking News. It was the most-tipped event since the tip feature launched in May. Since then, Breaking News has received tips from 80 countries and all 50 states, general manager Cory Bergman said. Those tips have resulted in a couple hundred stories.

“Breaking news is going to be covered by eyewitnesses so much faster than any news organization,” Bergman said. “It’ll be live video, it’ll be every angle. This is our first foray into figuring out how we, as a news organization, can have some piece of that and not entirely hand over news coverage to social platforms.”

The button to share a tip is in the top right corner of the app. Users can choose from a list of emojis representing events, ranging from an earthquake or flooding to lots of sirens or a loud boom. The tips are then funneled to the app’s Nearby section, which surfaces tips submitted near a user’s location.

tips_velocity_grabA feed of tips is also sent into the app’s publishing system, so Breaking News editors can see them. There are so many tips that editors can’t check into all of them, but if there’s an influx of tips on a specific topic, they can use that information to confirm the reports.

“The most valuable piece of it, where a lot of the real potential is for us, is when there’s a spike of similar tips from a similar area over a short period of time,” Bergman said. “We keep an eye out for those tips and pay more attention to them.”

Breaking News receives spikes in tips around big stories in urban areas, such as the industrial explosion this month in south Philadelphia and an hours-long power outage in downtown Seattle in late May.

It’s also able to take outlier tips and use them to confirm stories. For instance, floods in Sri Lanka last month killed more than 100 people and displaced half a million residents. Breaking News’s coverage of the floods began with a single tip from the outskirts of Colombo, the capital city.

After seeing the tip, Breaking News editors were able to find only one news story about the floods, but searches on social media found a tweet showing flooded streets. Using that information, Breaking News was able to send out an alert and update coverage in its apps.

“We have an amplifier effect, too,” Bergman said. “When we find stories in the early stages very quickly, it expedites coverage in other newsrooms as well.”

DetroitEarthquakeUsers do sometimes submit false tips. On Saturday, for example, someone reported an earthquake in the Detroit suburb of Warren, Michigan. There was no earthquake in Michigan on Saturday.

Breaking News designed the tipping feature in an attempt to minimize the ability to abuse it. The categories are purposely broad, the font for tips is lighter and smaller than the font for confirmed reports, and they’re also confined to the app’s Nearby tab — not the main Now feed.

BreakingNewsEmojisBreaking News also has the ability to ban users who repeatedly abuse the tipping function. Still, false tips aren’t a huge concern. “News organizations have always been so concerned about what happens if the community does something wrong or says something wrong,” Bergman said. “As an industry, we haven’t been open enough in allowing the community to have some leeway.”

The tipping function originated on Breaking News’ Apple Watch app. There, users could hit a button to indicate that news was happening close to them and an editor could then follow up on it. But editors were quickly overwhelmed by vague tips and decided to build the more specific tipping feature, add it to the iOS and Android apps, and make it more consumer-facing.

Moving forward, Breaking News wants to find better ways to credit users who submit tips, and wants to incorporate confirmed tips into the main Now feed. The company is also thinking about how it could work with news organizations to expand geo-tipping beyond Breaking News’ own apps and create a standardized tipping platform.

More streamlined ways to surface stories for editors are also in the works. Right now they have to manually sift through tips to find news stories, but Breaking News plans to develop a programmatic system that can send the editors alerts when there’s a spike in tips.

Bergman sees the tipping application as part of Breaking News’ larger effort to make geolocation a more centralized part of mobile news consumption.

“We’re working on getting closer to answering that question, ‘Hey, what just happened near me?'” Bergman said. “There’s not going to be a nice, buttoned-up report on it — especially in the very early stages — but if users begin to see tips and then they begin to see tweets and other reporting in [the app’s Nearby section], they can piece together what’s happening in real time. Fulfilling that use case is one of our big goals.”

Photo by @wewon31 used under a Creative Commons license.

POSTED     June 20, 2016, 10:54 a.m.
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