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JA Network Profile: The Breaking News Network explores new ways of expressing media

Breaking News Network 

Started in 2009, the Breaking News Network curates the media and blog feeds in 350-plus cities worldwide to create a real-time ticker tape of social-media-sourced news in each city. The noncommercial network is unique in supporting each city’s civic groups, arts organizations and causes by providing them with a free media voice to connect with their community.

Journalism Accelerator

The JA had the opportunity to participate in the recent Street Fight Summit in New York City. While there, Breaking News Network (BNN) founder Patrick Kitano introduced himself.

When BNN was launched three years ago to give voice to community causes, Kitano brought a unique knowledge from early experiments using Twitter (2006 – 2009) and social media to develop hyperlocal community information networks for the real estate market. Focusing on social at the outset, Kitano was “cobbling together” segmented lists on Twitter before Twitter had even created “lists.” (For context, Twitter launched in July of 2006.) This early social community development revealed new ways that Kitano found effectively enabled an active, community-sourced and locally driven information network.

Kitano sees BNN providing a shared social channel – one community, one voice, one cause at a time – with promise of doing good for others by supporting civic groups, local causes and arts organizations.

Focused on public good

Three years, 300-plus cities with localized Twitter feeds, with a combined network of 400,000. Animating the concept behind the Breaking News Network, Patrick Kitano sees this as just the beginning. Building BNN to serve as a kind of “PBS of social media sourced news,” Kitano, who built the network out of a methodology developed for the real estate industry, has an unusually deep understanding of engagement using social media.

pkitano headshot

Patrick Kitano is a founder of Brand into Media where he works with corporations and organizations to develop brand-advocacy strategies focused on hyperlocal engagement. He started the Breaking News Network in 2009 as a project to build a local media network devoted to community service freed from the trappings of traditional advertising models. Working across media markets, Kitano has been an early adopter and trainer in social media applications, as well as the winner of the real estate technology Inman’s Innovator Award in 2009 for most innovative media.

His career began with selling local radio in San Francisco; from there he spent eight years working as an investment banker focused on the Internet and new media. Kitano then jumped in the market as an Internet entrepreneur with a focus on real estate, opening two businesses from 2003 – 2009. Kitano describes the second real estate business, a social media consulting firm, as a “first to market” real estate technology blog. He immediately recognized and began to tap into the power of Twitter to reframe the traditional realtor sales tack of hard sell to connect with the community in a helpful way that did not include banner ads or push marketing.

The constant throughout all of this, Kitano explains, is “finding new ways of expressing media.”

Take inventory

“Brand advocacy works where people know each other at a very local level.” In 2009, Kitano began to see new possibilities emerging as an early power user of Twitter and social channels to connect communities at the hyperlocal level. For the Breaking News Network, currently established as an LLC, the aim is to channel the hyperlocal network development from Kitano’s early realtor social brand marketing success to a model of cross-community social connections where causes or information sources who hold expertise in the local culture offer content with a goal to “help others out.” Kitano has a lot of expertise from training veteran realtors to completely reorient their sales process; “If you can help causes out,” he says, “you can get involved in the community, where you can create a more beneficial base. “

BNN is broken into “20 categories around subjects such as sports, foodies, family, health, home & garden.” With “320 twitter feeds, all heavily localized, we do not auto-follow, but we do follow locals. About 50 percent of our Twitter feed followers are local,” explains Kitano, who aspires for BNN to function as a kind of “PBS of social media sourced news, no banner ads; it has never been our intention to have any commercials on it. It was going to promote the kinds of groups – civic groups, arts organizations, good causes – we want … to have a voice inside the network across 350 different cities, with a potential reach of 400,000.”

Give community a voice

In the conversation with Kitano, my line of questioning kept returning to profitability, trying to decode if and where the revenue model was. Kitano sees this piece differently as it relates to relationships with news media. He thinks “media ideally should be a utility to connect the community by allowing anybody to get their word out using social media. Then local media becomes more sustainable by expanding the number of participants beyond those who can pay for play. As a content model, I think the curated community bulletin board is more efficient and real time, and less costly than the traditional editor-submission model.”

For Kitano’s social public service channel, this bulletin board concept for BNN evolved “because every time a new partner came up that allowed us to deliver or present the news better, it just made our jobs easy to do these things simply. Curating media feeds through, Facebook and Twitter, onto the rebel mouse platform – creating a panorama of things to do, anything you want to do in a city, GroupTweet gives us the ability to take anyone inside the community and RT them with a hashtag. If we can give them a voice, and we authorize them, we’re able to create in essence a kind of bulletin board across our 350 cities. BreakingSFNews is our workshop.”

Got social equity?

For Kitano, authentic and trusted voices in the community that share breaking news through a common channel, segmented on a very local level with 320 Twitter feeds, represents a powerful model for delivering relationship-driven brand advocacy. As an example, BNN has been working closely with the Do Something Good project, a national nonprofit that empowers young people to participate in social change campaigns. In their current campaign Teens for Jeans BNN is able to “publicize at a local level [larger national ] campaigns. We are creating a brand-advocate network where lots of the teens … have Twitter accounts, [and] we reach out and directly connect with them. Offering to put a localized hashtag on their post, BNN broadcasts this out across their local community with a tag or identifier that associates them with a particular hashtag or effort. [We see this as a] model to develop campaigns, educate around the power of retweet (RT) explaining how to RT, so they pick up additional advocacy bound to a very local level.”

Teens for Jeans

Teens for Jeans

As the conversation with Kitano unfolded, it revealed a fascinating way to think about local news providers and the existing opportunity to curate and cultivate communities around the local culture, providing a space for active, trusted opinion leaders who have a stake in the local information ecosystem. A softer aspect of sustainability, still in its infancy for standardized measurement and monitoring, is the growing importance of “Relationship Science” type products. As this new kind of intelligence raises the bar for social networking, brand loyalty and building consumer trust, could news channels tap into existing connections in the community to give the locals even greater utility?

What kinds of additional equity might publishers generate through existing Twitter community lists? Would it be worth exploring how breaking Twitter lists down into specific feeds you could control, might give your community greater reach, enhance their ability to connect with your content and ultimately, help build your business?