Breaking News
Breaking News started life as a Twitter-only news outlet, with micro-reports shared from @BreakingNews, an account which today has more than 5 million followers.

A team of journalists based in the UK and US report stories in 140 characters, with tweets referencing the source and linking to the verified eyewitness report or recognised news outlet.

In December 2009 the Twitter channel was acquired by NBC News Digital (then MSNBC), which bought the following month. In 2010 the news provider launched apps for Android, iPhone and Windows and on November 2011 launched @BreakingNewsUK and last year released a TV ticker app.

Breaking News may have started out as a Twitter account but the startup now describes itself as a mobile-first operation. It is further developing its range of apps after experiencing a sharp increase in mobile traffic.

In the second of this series on news outlets which have adopted a mobile-first approach, we find out more about the future of Breaking News. This feature follows a look at Circa, a mobile-only news provider.

Why shift from social to mobile?

Cory Bergman is general manager of Breaking News. He also blogs about social TV on Lost Remote and, along with his wife, launched Next Door Media, a hyperlocal news startup based in Seattle.

Last January we watched our mobile traffic just skyrocket past the websiteCory Bergman
Bergman explained why Breaking News started by thinking social-first, and is now going mobile.

"Last January we watched our mobile traffic just skyrocket past the website," Bergman said. "First it was 1:1, then it was 2:1, then it was 3:1. As a team we started to think to ourselves 'hey, this is obviously a mobile-centric idea that we have'.

Curating breaking news

Breaking news provides "real-time breaking news updates from our curation team that works around the clock", Bergman said. It now does so on Twitter, other social media platforms, and via the apps.

"Whoever breaks a story first that is a respectable news organisation or a verified eyewitness report, we'll pass that along," Bergman said.

"We send a tremendous number of clicks a day to news organisations: more than 200,000 and growing."

He added: "We want to be that leading edge of discovery and not necessarily own the whole storytelling news consumption around that. I think it makes us a little bit different."

Breaking News on mobile

Breaking News currently has apps for iPhone, iPad, Android, Kindle Fire, Windows Phone and Windows 8. You can favourite stories, track them, and when a major story breaks, you can get push notifications (a really useful resource for journalists).

The updates are "always very crisp and Twitter-like in length, and we are very careful to link the originator prominently and credit them prominently", Bergman explained.

And starting as a Twitter-native news provider developed focus is speed. "If you compare us to other news apps out there we are very fast," he said.

Social remains a key part of Breaking News but as readers have turned their attention to mobile, so has the startup. "The more we thought about what it meant to be mobile-first, the more we felt that this was just a starting point for us."

So where next for Breaking News?

It's not about taking something that we have done on Twitter or the website and extending it to mobile, but really thinking about what the problems to solve are for mobile users todayCory Bergman on the new apps
"We are beginning to work on a new version [of the app] that takes a different perspective," Bergman said.

"It's not about taking something that we have done on Twitter or the website and extending it to mobile, but really thinking about what the problems to solve are for mobile users today."

And the new mobile-first news apps can provide more than a 140 character tweet. "We do spend a lot of time thinking about what the shortcomings of Twitter are that we could fix in a breaking news environment, and really thinking about what's unique about Breaking News in the whole of the news consumption ecosystem."

A mobile-first CMS

As with Circa (which we looked at in the last mobile-first feature), Breaking News has also built its own content management system.

Bergman told me that it is focussed on speed "so editors can go in and with the minimal amount of workflow enter something very quickly and distribute it to a lot of places very fast".

News as a utility

The current Breaking News app has a 'places' tab, which geolocates stories on a map. I asked Bergman if this is something we will see developed in the new app.

He explained that Breaking News editors have started to attach a lot of data to the updates. "You don't see that data if you are just looking at Twitter or when we are posting from, and a lot of it you don't see in the apps right now. But it is in the background and we are going to start surfacing that data in ways to make the app really much more of a utility than it's ever been before.

"News as a consumption experience is where a lot of news organisations are today," Bergman said. The evolution of this is to looking at "news as a utility and what problems can it solve for people."

Mobile first, desktop second

Bergman has written several blog posts in the last few weeks about the importance of putting mobile before desktop.

He told that as he started to understand the significance of mobile in the context of Breaking News, he started to realise "that the rest of the industry is grappling with what it means to be mobile-first".

"I think the majority of journalists believe that mobile is simply a new design and new distribution. They think if you build a responsive website and make sure content is represented in apps for different platforms, that's mobile-first. It's not. Mobile-first means you begin to focus everything you do to be default mobile."

Bergman said all areas of the business should be mobile-first. "The analytics that you share should always see mobile at the top, that should always be the obsession. If you are drawing a mock up on a whiteboard that's a desktop, you are in trouble."

Why mobile cannot be ignored by news outlets

Why does mobile matter to news outlets? Bergman said it is because Facebook and Google will get readers' eyeballs if newspapers and news sites do not act quickly. (He has written about it here.)

As these organisations gain a bigger footprint, they will begin to make the opportunities smaller for news organisationsCory Bergman on Facebook, Google and Twitter
"You have the big players like Facebook and Google and Twitter who are beginning to dominate the mobile space," he said. "When people go to Facebook on their mobile devices, they are going for news. And as these social media organisations gain a bigger footprint, they will begin to make the opportunities smaller for news organisations.

"They are already gaining such a tremendous head start – and I view that as a threat as well as an opportunity."

Bergman said mobile matters in terms of making money. "The monetisation gap between desktop and mobile is tremendous. It's not just all incremental traffic. You are going to see that as people shift behaviour to mobile, desktop consumption will decrease and because of that we'll see revenue impacts at news organisations which are not able to ramp up quickly enough on mobile and sell mobile effectively enough to compensate."

He added: "If you look at what Google is doing, what Facebook is doing, together they own about 70 per cent of all mobile ad revenue spend – which is unbelievable. If you look at what they are doing they go way beyond display ads and they are beginning the monetise mobile where news organisations have yet to really nail mobile monetistaion strategy.

"There's so much work to be done there, so much experimentation to be done, to really get in position where we can capitalise on this new wave of consumption."

So what should journalists do?

"I would challenge journalists to talk less about social media and talk more about mobile," Bergman said. "I think every journalist today is enamoured with social media – me too, I started a blog about social TV – but mobile is so much more important. 

"We need to look at mobile as a business: how do we make money, how do we create utility, how do we solve problems for users? This is a bigger deal than social ever was or ever will be. We need to start shifting the conversation to mobile."

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