How AI Technology is Delivering Breaking News Faster: An Interview with Dataminr

In the age of social media, you don’t have to be a journalist to break news in real-time. Anyone with a Twitter account can be the first to shine light on stories and events within seconds of them happening (think natural disasters, terrorist attacks, political drama, etc.) Before news outlets are made aware of this kind of news, it sits in a metaphorical “unclaimed news story” pile.

This pile of unclaimed stories is gold to every outlet fighting one another for the chance to be the first to break a story. But with 326 million active Twitter users a month, it’s difficult if not impossible to keep track of all the latest news stories surfacing on Twitter alone.

With that in mind, Ted Bailey, a graduate of Yale University, founded Dataminr in 2009. Dataminr uses advanced AI technology to detect breaking news stories on Twitter, and ultimately give journalists a leg up on developing stories. The company now reports that over 400 newsrooms across the globe utilize Dataminr.

To better understand how Dataminr operates and what’s in store for their future, MediaFile interviewed Garrett Santora, director of news at Dataminr.

MediaFile: What were you doing before you joined Dataminr?

Garrett Santora: I started working at Dataminr in October of 2013. Before that, I worked the night shift at Fox News covering national news and politics and eventually transitioned to covering international news.

MF: What got you to leave Fox for Dataminr?

GS: Dataminr struck me as a great opportunity. I used [to] always be playing around with hashtags and signals to find news so I really saw the need for Dataminr.

MF: What do you think has contributed to the “clutter of news” today?

GS: It’s the sheer volume of activity on social media you can look at half a million tweets in just one day.

MF: Why has Twitter become the medium for a lot of breaking news?

GS: I think when a Twitter user sees breaking news and they want to report it to a wide audience they go to Twitter. For us at Dataminr, we look for a variety of different factors beyond content — it can be video or photo-based but one aspect is a lot of people tweeting about an event.

MF: Do you think Twitter will continue to be a source of breaking news in the future?

GS: From our perspective we see Twitter becoming stronger; it seems to be growing faster than ever. It continues to be the medium for sharing a large amount of information for individuals.

MF: What’s the most important part of your job?

GS: Making sure users know how to use the platform and its settings properly to get better information for their articles. Dataminr is very customizable so they [users] can set it up based on their geography and focus. The journalists can then chose the way they receive the information either through desktop notifications or email.

MF: As breaking news unfolds new details are uncovered and lots of inaccuracies naturally occur. How do you avoid this or minimize this?

GS: Dataminr will send updates as stories evolve, and we are always on the lookout for material that can change a story. For instance, if there is an explosion reported the first alert would say that, the updated report might say something like “no one was injured.” There is also a clustering aspect — we have a team of subject matter experts to better refine it over time and the urgency level of the content.

MF: Once a journalist has a heads up on breaking news stories what do you typically see them do next?

GS: Our core value is to enable a journalist to know first which allows them to act faster. That can be a number of things, but we also say to journalists “use this time we have given you to find your own spin or customize for your audience.”  Some of our clients are known for long-term content they know their readers will appreciate the more unique spin. More competitive clients will use the time to publish before their competitors.

MF: Have there been any major legal barriers that have gotten in the way or your company’s innovation?

GS: Everything we do is publicly available. There is nothing affecting us in terms of regulation; the content [we use] can be found [online]. We just streamline the process of uncovering the breaking news within it.

MF: What’s in store for Dataminr’s future?

GS: Our company is still very young. One of the things we’re really focused on is delivering content to more journalists around the world. Latin America has been on our radar as a place to potentially grow since it’s a large news market and the same goes for Asia.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

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