MSNBC found the right man to help to move into social media: 20-year-old Michael van Poppel, a Dutch media maven with a newsfeed on Twitter.
Michael van Poppel started a Twitter feed called “BreakingNews” three years ago, from an apartment in Tilburg, the Netherlands. He aggregated news from the internet and linking to breaking headlines from around the world onto his feed.
Twitter was but a year old and Van Poppel just 17 at the time, but the novel idea drew an overnight following. BreakingNews’ first major scoop, to the astonishment of the European news establishment, was Van Poppel’s acquisition of a videotape carrying a statement from Osama bin Laden. How did a Dutch teen with a Twitter feed get hold of a Bin Laden tape? “It came to me from a source within the U.S. government,” is all Van Poppel will say.
After selling the video to Reuters, Van Poppel was deluged by social media fans in other countries eager to lend a hand tweeting news. This crowdsourcing soon paid off. In early 2008, when a small earthquake rocked the U.K. town of Grimsby, Van Poppel’s minions in the English countryside were jolted into action, pinging instant accounts. Those tweets triggered pre-set keywords on Van Poppel’s Twitter pages, which alerted him via instant messaging service GoogleTalk. Van Poppel, in turn, began posting quake bulletins, tweeting its estimated magnitude before the BBC even reported it.
By August of last year, Van Poppel had amassed 1.5 million followers–and the interest of MSNBC.
Charlie Tillinghast, president of MSNBC Digital Network sent an IM written in Dutch to the 20-year-old news mogul, asking whether he’d be interested in a deal whereby MSNBC’s digital division would manage the feed under MSNBC’s moniker. The network also contacted Twitter to get its blessing, says Tillinghast (Twitter doesn’t allow its account domains to be sold, only managed, by users). A meeting was arranged in September at MSNBC’s Rockefeller Center offices.
In a package deal, MSNBC acquired the rights to manage Van Poppel’s Twitter feed indefinitely and is paying him undisclosed fees to carry a separate headline service Van Poppel has launched, BNO News, for three years. Tillinghast now dedicates a full-time staff of three to the BreakingNews feed, aided by MSNBC reporters and editors in New York and Redmond, Wash.
This new Twitter newsfeed and new site BreakingNews.com will bring breaking news to the Web.