“The philosophy of BreakingNews.com” - Dave Wyllie at news:rewired

 by Martin Belam, 7 December 2012

At news:rewired, Dave Wyllie of BreakingNews.com talked about the duty of care the service had to the citizen eye-witness sources it uses.

Early on in his talk, Dave Wyllie of BreakingNews.com showed a picture of a crowd of people at an event, all holding up their phones. “Any one of these could be your source” he said, as he went on to explain the BreakingNews.com philosophy. They try to be source-agnostic, he said, and are platform agnostic in the way they publish across all major social media platforms. There were three areas of his talk that struck me as particularly interesting.

A duty of care

Dave pointed out that you don’t really know what you are opening someone up to if you have a lot of followers and you retweet them. The attention can be quite bewildering. He noted that online “People have an odd expectation of privacy when they discuss things in plain sight.”

Dave said that BreakingNews.com have a duty of care towards their sources. They tend not to retweet someone or use their material without asking them first. This, he explained, means you have to be aware that even the approach itself will change the next thing that they tweet or post. People can either throw themselves into reporting or freak out. He reminded us all that these people “are not your staff. Don’t create an abusive relationship.”

His points very much echoed some of the things my friend Laura Oliver had said when she talked at Hacks/Hackers in London about news communities at the Guardian. As I blogged at the time:

“Laura finished with a very thoughtful point, saying that increasingly she worries about what happens when ‘you take someone from a community away from their website, and by linking to them, suddenly turn all the attention that the Guardian has onto their video or blog’. The attention and criticism from a Guardian audience can potentially be withering. Laura has been pondering what happens after the event, and how the Guardian can help support people in that situation.”

Accuracy and hoaxes

I’ve already blogged some notes from Katie Rogers’ news:rewired talk, where she spoke about the Guardian curating and debunking fake pictures and stories about Hurricane Sandy. Dave also addressed the issue of accuracy and being fooled. He said that BreakingNews.com had never been hoodwinked yet, but conceded that if someone really wants to trick you, then provided they spend a few days or a week setting up some background to make an account look genuine, they’ll probably succeed.

Dave mounted a strong defence of eye-witnesses posting material to social media though. He said that “panic, confusion and hyperbole are not the same as lies”, and that in the first few minutes of a breaking news event people don’t have time to make up lies or think about what hashtag they are going to use. Stuff just happens to them really quickly, and they are unlikely to think through the long-term implications of anything they might post to the web in those moments.

Simple in-house tools

Dave Wyllie briefly showed us a screenshot of one of their CMS tools. With a very plain and simple interface it allows them to quickly publish to multiple social platforms. He advocated building tools in-house that could be precisely tailored to the required workflow. He said “if you can create a tool that does one or two things very well, you will end up having an advantage over others.”


Talking of tools, in the user experience session I took part in, Grig Davidovitz showed some very interesting CMS approaches. I’ll have my notes from that next.

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