The digital network that includes msnbc.com on Tuesday announced the acquisition of the BreakingNews.com Web address, with the aim of creating a Web site to complement its @BreakingNews alert service on Twitter.
The latest addition to the msnbc Digital Network will focus on up-to-the-second news coverage from multiple sources, executives of the company said. (Msnbc.com is a Microsoft - NBC Universal joint venture.)
"It's a different experience for news users, rather than any kind of diminishment for msnbc.com," Charles Tillinghast, president of the msnbc Digital Network, said in an interview. The move is "consistent with our strategy of creating different news experiences for different user interests," he said.
"Not everyone wants news surrounded by commentary or features," he explained in a statement. "Our goal as a news organization is to provide the most relevant experiences to satisfy distinct needs. Hard and fast breaking news is currently an underserved market. With www.breakingnews.com we can now provide the optimal solution."
Tillinghast said the acquisition was made in mid-December, but he declined to provide further details about the terms or the sellers. Domain-name purchase prices can vary widely. As an example, Domain Name Wire reported last month that NewsForum.com was sold for $10,000, while Leisure.com went for $150,000 and Call.com sold for $1.1 million.
BreakingNews.com had been owned by New York-based PV Media Group, and as of late Monday the domain name was still listed as one of its online properties. Steve Rosenberg, PV Media Group's chief executive officer, told msnbc.com on Tuesday that the transaction "was a good deal for both of us," although he declined to specify the purchase price.
"We were very successful in getting a tremendous amount of traffic," Rosenberg said, but the company felt msnbc.com was better-suited to make the additional investment in BreakingNews.com's development.
Expanding its brands
Over the past couple of years, msnbc.com has expanded its collection of news brands through acquisitions as well as cooperative agreements. The acquisitions include Newsvine, a social news site; and EveryBlock, a news site that provides neighborhood-level coverage from more than a dozen cities. Msnbc's network also includes branded sites for NBC's TODAY Show and NBC Sports.
In December, msnbc.com took over management of the @BreakingNews Twitter account, which provides updates to nearly 1.6 million subscribers, or "followers." The arrangement was part of a deal under which msnbc.com became the first client for BNO News, a wire service established by @BreakingNews founder Michael van Poppel.
Tillinghast said van Poppel played no role in BreakingNews.com or in the acquisition.
For now, the BreakingNews.com Web site provides nothing more than an updated feed of @BreakingNews' Twitter alerts and Web links. "It essentially is a Twitter feed for people who don't use Twitter," Tillinghast said. But the site is likely to evolve into a service that also provides news stories and minute-by-minute updates on developing stories. Tillinghast said such features would differentiate the Web site from the Twitter feed, where "you have to regulate how many dispatches you send out" to avoid overwhelming followers.
Msnbc.com editors would be in charge of the content for the Web site, just as they are for the Twitter feed, said deputy editor Russ Shaw. "Intelligently done, it strengthens our brand," he said.
"We're in the era of the real-time Web, and there's an appetite for organized, fast, deliberate news, delivered how you want it," Shaw said. "This is a better experience than a search that gives you endless results that are not relevant to what you're looking for."
A news site for ‘all comers’?
Shaw said that both breaking-news channels link to news sources other than msnbc.com, including competitors such as CNN.
Jay Rosen, a journalism professor and press critic at New York University, said he hoped the venture would truly be an "all-comers breaking-news site, meaning no natural preference for msnbc."
"One way to build trust is to say to users, 'We bring you the news from the Web wherever it is found,'" he noted. "If you don't do that — if you say, 'We only bring you the news that we have' — that can actually undermine trust. The ethic of the link is that we can, because we have this marvelous tool we have, connect to information wherever it is."
Rosen also said online news operations should look to their users as a source of information. As an example, he pointed to the way Twitter spread information about last year's jetliner splashdown in the Hudson River.
"Twitter now is a more effective system than any single news organization at servicing breaking news," he said. "Really it's just showing us that the news system has been extended to include the users as part of the relay. The only way you can do a really good breaking-news feed is not simply to broadcast out that breaking news, but actually use those million-plus followers as a news net and your antenna."
Tillinghast said "there may be a place for user-generated content" but emphasized that the details of the news-gathering operation were still being worked out.
"All of the product planning for this is still in the works," he said.