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Breaking News

In the past I’ve struggled to find a way to be alerted to breaking news, were “breaking news” is defined as things that matter1.

For some time, Scanner Radio Pro was my preferred solution. The Android application uses Broadcastify to stream feeds of police and EMS radio (among other sources). While a police scanner is always a good thing to have, the application is relevant here because of its notification support. It will push notifications when a channel has a certain number of users listening to it. The application default threshold is 3500 listeners for all channels, but it also allows you to configure per-channel thresholds. I set the threshold to 200 listeners for San Francisco police and EMS channels. I also have the threshold set to 200 for any station within 50 miles of my current location. Those two are redundant when I’m in San Francisco, but it means that if I’m travelling I’ll receive alerts for wherever I am, and I’ll be able to stay up to date on what’s happening back in the city.

The alerts simply tell me that a large number of people are listening to a certain channel, which indicates that something is probably going on in that location. It doesn’t tell me what is happening, but prompts me to figure that out for myself. When the shooting started in Dallas a couple weeks ago, I was alerted immediately that something was happening due to the unusually high number of people listening to the Dallas PD channel. When I saw that, I performed a quick search for Dallas news and discovered the reason.

I’ve had good success with these alerts. It has worked well for shootings like in Dallas. The alerts kept me informed of disruptions in the area this past winter when the Super Bowl was in town. Unfortunately, most of the Broadcastify feeds and listeners are US-focused, so it tends not to help with events outside of the country. There were no alerts for the attack in Nice, France.

More recently I’ve begun supplementing Scanner Radio Pro with the conveniently named Breaking News. They are basically a modern wire service, collating data from traditional news sources, social media channels like Twitter, and direct user submissions. Human editors manage the service, which does seem to take care of some of the cruft. Events are grouped into topics, and topics can be muted or subscribed to. Their mobile application supports push notifications for global major stories, as well as stories based on geographic proximity to the device’s current location.

I’ve noticed that the application does have an impact on my battery (even with the “battery saver” option enabled), but I think it’s worth it for the service provided. They provide alerts for a wider breadth of topics than the police scanner, and provide immediate context for the alert. If they provide an alert for an event that I don’t care about, I can mute the topic and never hear about it again. It’s rare that I need to do this, as they seem judicious in their use of push notifications.

Scanner Radio Pro and the Breaking News application live on the home screen of my phone in a directory labelled “Intelligence”. Along with applications like Flightradar24 and Marine Traffic (like Flightradar24 but for boats), they help provide context for and build awareness of the world around me.

Notes

  1. Not celebrities. Not sports.

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