The Breaking News Network thinks it can fix hyperlocal journalism with lots and lots of Twitter feeds

By Richard Nieva , written on June 10, 2013

From The News Desk

Hyperlocal news is a cruel sector that has already taken down a number of contenders, famously including ones with large corporate balance sheets. So when one company tries to do it on a thrift store budget, it’s audacious and hopeless, right?

Patrick Kitano, who runs the Breaking News Network, doesn’t think so. Unlike a traditional news organization with a front page news site, BNN aggregates relevant local news from blogs and city officials and curates them through individual Twitter feeds with accompanying RebelMouse pages for over 350 cities – metropolises and small towns included. For example, since I am in San Francisco, a tweet from the my city's feed looks like this:

To lighter things like this:

After careers in the movie industry, investment banking, and real estate, Kitano bootstrapped the project and started it in 2009. For a big city like San Francisco or New York, with many major media outlets devoted to those areas, the idea seems less promising. But for a smaller suburb, like, say Burlingame, CA, which sits on the peninsula about 20 minutes outside of San Francisco, BNN could be a helpful tool. The city gets news coverage from the San Mateo County Times and other outlets that cover the Bay Area as a whole, but clearly doesn't receive the individualized attention that a major city would.

Another key feature is that BNN gives a few people in each city the power to be “authorized tweeters,” meaning anything they tweet, using the city’s designated hashtag, will automatically be retweeted by the official BNN Twitter feed for that city, without review from BNN. People with that designation are usually folks in city government, editors of local blogs or heads of community organizations. That certainly requires some trust in the authorized tweeters, but Kitano says that, out of the over 2000 authorized tweeters, only three have been de-authorized “for being too spammy.”

Kitano’s idea for a potential monetization model is a variation on the typical advertising theme. BNN has a partnership with, a high profile not-for-profit that helps young people create campaigns for social causes, to give the heads of those campaigns direct access to the feeds for local promotion. He hopes to eventually extend this model of granting local media access to paid partnerships with other local brands. Of course, for that access to be really worthwhile for brands, the city feeds have to have a really strong presence. Right now, the San Francisco feed has 6,431 follwers, and Burlingame has 777. Kitano says the entire network of cities collectively has over 400,000 followers.

The business could conceivably go nowhere, but it’s intriguing to take a look at because its bare-bones approach is so novel. And if it works on any kind of mass scale, it will be a big slap in the face of venture-backed and corporate players like Patch that have tried with futility to own the enigmatic space.

If nothing else, BNN is another example of experimentation in the hyperlocal news category. In April, Stanford announced it would award a Knight Journalism Fellowship to Alexa Schirtzinger, who stepped down from her post as the Editor in Chief of the alternative weekly the Santa Fe Reporter to explore how alt-weeklies can be used as a platform to find new revenue models in local journalism.

The market is in need of a jumpstart. Any attempt at finding a new model is welcome.

[Image via Shutterstock]