I Wrote On News Break For 3 Months and Got 47,000 Views. Here’s What I Learned.
How to get approved, what content does well, and how to structure your articles
There’s an old saying in journalism: “Dog Bites Man is not a story. Man Bites Dog is a story”. The concept is that a news story has to have some surprising, unusual, or unique aspect to it in order to be reported and shared. Dogs bite people all the time, so that’s not news. But if the tables turned and a man bites a dog, that would be unique and surprising enough to be newsworthy.
On News Break, “Dog Bites Man” is news. In fact, it’s very lucrative, compelling news. News Break is an AI powered news aggregator app, founded by Jeff Zheng and Xuyang Ren, two veterans of the Chinese media world. The app mimics a business model which has been hugely successful throughout Asia — providing a constant feed of hyper-local, breaking news, delivered to peoples’ mobile devices, and pinged out to them continuously using push notifications throughout the day.
Apparently, the model has been successful here in the United States, too. The News Break app consistently ranks #3 on the Apple Store for free news apps and #1 on Google Play according to Tech Crunch, and the company has raised $151 million and as of May 2020 had 23 million monthly users, and reportedly has 45 million monthly users now, generating 1.5 billion monthly page views.
The app has taken the writing world by storm by offering writers guaranteed minimum payments which can be as high as $1,000 per month, if they meet certain engagement metrics (I’m a News Break creator, but like Shannon Ashley, contractual constraints prevent me from disclosing specifics of my own agreement with the company, including compensation).
If you’re a creator, should you check News Break out? What kind of content does best there, and is your own content a fit? What kind of traffic can you get on the platform?
I’ve been writing on News Break for 3 months. Here is what I’ve learned so far.
How to Write for News Break
News Break built its userbase and content library primarily by partnering with already-established local news companies, like newspapers and local broadcasters. To fill in the gaps and capture more hyper-local content, the company launched its Creators program to recruit individual content creators, writers and influencers.
News Break offers guaranteed income for its writers. Unsurprisingly, this has led to a ton of competition to write for the platform, and many writers like Shamar M report bring rejected from News Break, sometimes multiple times. New prospective Creators can apply on News Break’s website. Be ready to provide links to your social media profiles. The company says it reviews applications within 5–7 days, but some writers report longer review times up to 14 days.
Personally, I joined News Break because the company reached out to me directly. They had read my writing here on Medium, thought I would do well on their platform, and invited me to apply. If you’ve established a name for yourself in a content area that News Break finds valuable (more on this below), it’s very possible that you’ll get a similar invitation from them as your follower count and impact grows on other platforms.
Despite the invitation, I still wrote News Break a cover letter explaining why I’d be a great fit for their platform. I think this is always a good practice if you’re serious about a new opportunity. My review process took about 7 days before I was approved as a Creator on the platform.
Come to them with a personal referral from another News Break creator
If you haven’t gotten an invitation directly from News Break, other writers have said that it helps to come to them with a personal referral from another News Break creator. Because News Break offers generous incentives for referring other writers, many creators on the platform share their referral links like candy (I don’t share my own link publicly because I don’t like most referral marketing, but if you think your content is a fit for News Break, reach out to me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll talk.)
Because News Break asks to see your social links, it’s safe to assume that your follower counts and social posts affect whether you’re approved as a Creator. If you have a ton of followers on a specific social platform, make sure to include it when you apply to News Break.
What Content Does Well On News Break
Repeat after me:
News Break is a News Platform.
While the company is aggressively recruiting bloggers and general writers, News Break isn’t a general-interest blogging platform like Medium.
News Break would like news content on the level of your individual town — maybe even your individual block.
Rather, as others including Tim Denning have noted, it’s a news platform. More specifically, it’s a local news platform--the more local, the better. News Break would like news content on the level of your individual town--maybe even your individual block. They know this hyper-local news about topics that impact daily lives will bring readers back to their platform.
That means that the topics which do well on News Break are the same well-worn topics that have done well in local news for over a century: Municipal politics. Local businesses opening and closing. Wildlife sightings. School news. Local announcements. City events. Unusual weather. Scandals. Crime.
When you publish a story on News Break, you have the option to link it to a specific city. If you do this--and News Break’s algorithm deems the story worthy--News Break users in that city and sometimes adjacent cities (usually those in the same county) will get a push notification on their phone about your story within a hour or two after you publish it.
This can lead to solid traffic if it’s a compelling topic. I wrote a story about an emergency alert text message sent out to residents of Contra Costa County, California. The story got 87,000 impressions and more than 8,600 views, because News Break sent it out to tens of thousands of county residents as a push notification on their phone. By tagging a city, you can also connect your story to a particular audience, which News Break encourages.
Again, the platform is looking for hyper-local content. If I write about a new restaurant that’s opening in Walnut Creek, California, residents of Boise, Idaho won’t care about it. But residents of Walnut Creek will care a lot. By tagging Walnut Creek when I publish my story, I can tell News Break which audience to push the story to. They’ll notify everyone in Walnut Creek, and tons of people will read (and probably share) the story.
There also seems to be a lucrative niche for stories which would have gone in the gossip column or society pages of a traditional newspapers — tales of sordid love affairs and the like (without any naughty words, as News Break prohibits these), as well as celebrity news and political opinions appear to do well on the platform in these categories. Shannon writes a lot of stories like this, and has north of 675,000 views on News Break.
The platform is not great, though, for things like technology content, detailed medical content, and the like. In that way, it’s very different from Medium. You can absolutely repurpose some of your Medium content to use on News Break (and vice versa), but some content that does great on Medium does terribly there. My story about the bradykinin hypothesis has received over 11 million views on Medium. I posted it on News Break, and it hasn’t received a single view.
Tim has noted that when you repurpose content from Medium, it’s the weird stuff that tends to be best. Again, though, he’s publishing for a worldwide, general interest audience. I’ve achieved traffic numbers comparable to his by eschewing broadly relevant news and going very, very local. Your overall audience size is much smaller if you go hyper-local, but News Break will promote your content much more aggressively, since hyper-local content is their whole reason for being.
A few of my top stories in my first three months were:
- Package Thief Caught in the Act in Walnut Creek (101,000 impressions, 12,000 views)
- Emergency Alert: All Bay Area Counties Now Under Lockdown (87,000 impressions, 8,689 views)
- Always Scream at Coyotes (101,000 impressions, 5,282 views)
Structuring Your News Break Content
If this was the 18th century, Medium would be the person producing carefully-reasoned, exhaustively researched, complexly-argued pamphlets for the elite. News Break would be the guy with a printing press churning out broadsides about the ruckus at the tavern last night and nailing them to every tree in town.
That’s not to say that News Break’s content requirements are less rigorous than Medium’s. In many ways they’re more rigorous, since News Break only allows certain writers onto their platform, and reviews every submission before it’s published (this process takes about 1–6 hours). It’s just that on News Break, the most successful stories follow a specific structure, and you don’t get extra points for experimenting with form.
On Medium, I often play with the form of pieces, and the platform rewards this experimentation. I recently wrote a piece about the breakthrough AI technology GPT-3 which began with nearly 200 words about an obscure Russian literary critic. It’s received 33,000 views. I also wrote a 22 minute read about solar powered cryptocurrency mining. It’s had 9,600 views and counting. Medium is a platform which encourages experimentation with writing, and rewards pieces which break from literary convention.
News Break is different. On the platform, it’s best for your writing to get out of the way, so you can share news and facts as quickly as possible. For that reason, the absolute best structure for stories on the site is the inverted pyramid.
This is a standard format in the new industry and has been in use for at least a century. You begin with the most newsworthy information (what happened, who did it happen to, etc.) in the first few paragraphs, then drill down to backstory and details, and finally finish with basic background information.
Originally the inverted funnel was used so that editors could cut off a story at a particular word length depending on the column space available in a traditional newspaper. Because the most important information always came at the top of the story, they wouldn’t risk nixing important details if they cut the story off at a random point near the end.
A “Dog Bites Man” story could go, for example:
- Two paragraphs about where and how the dog bit the man (“At Eastside park, Bob was walking on his own, when…”)
- Two paragraphs with quotes from witnesses, details on other dog bites that occurred in the same park, etc. (“This latest bite comes after a series of bites earlier this Summer at Eastside park…” or “Jane, who witnessed the incident, said…”)
- Three or more paragraphs with additional background info (“Eastside park is a large community park located in…” or “If you’ve been the victim of a dog attack in Eastside Park, the Anytown Police encourage you to call this number…”)
It’s an incredibly formulaic structure, and some writers will probably hate that. But I actually like it. There’s something freeing about not having to worry or think at all about the structure of your piece. It allows you to focus entirely on the content, to build your story based on the facts you want to share, and to be experimental in the kinds of pieces you write.
I’ve written pieces on News Break that coin totally new concepts, like a whole series about a coyote which has been attacking people in the East Bay, and which I dubbed the “Lamorinda Rogue Coyote”. I’ve also written pieces that are mainly a series of photos, or even a single photo with a paragraph of text. I’ve written local restaurant reviews, and pieces celebrating small businesses (these are my favorite to write on the platform). I even wrote a successful piece about the ultimate local news cliché: a cat that got stuck in a tree.
There’s something fun about having your structure already decided for you, and just filling in the blanks with whatever you feel like reporting on. It also means you can churn out content incredibly quickly (another reason newspapers have always loved the inverted pyramid). I’ve written News Break stories in as little as 5 minutes. Once you master the form, it’s fun to generate content quickly, and to respond to breaking news events (local or otherwise) within minutes of them happening.
Try it Out
I’ve been writing for News Break since November, and again, I’ve found it to be a positive, very interesting experience (and yes, they’ve honored everything in our contract and paid me on time). I like that the platform allows me to create and monetize content that doesn’t perform well in other places (like very local stories), and to share interesting things happening in my own local community.
And besides, News Break has 1.5 billion pageviews per month. That’s a massive audience, and one that you absolutely shouldn’t miss out on reaching if you’re serious about content creation. So check News Break out, and follow along here as I share more specific ideas and advice for success on the platform, as well as more of my own experiences as a News Break creator.