As in most places, citizens get their breaking news in New York from television, radio, the newspaper or the Web. But the first hints of something big happening often come from a strip mall in New Jersey and are sent to pagers and computers in newsrooms in New York City and beyond. The mall is home to the Breaking News Network, started in the early ’90s by twin brothers who believed that journalists eager for a scoop would pay for a pager service that transmitted information culled from radio frequencies used by emergency responders, reports the New York Times.
The pager messages are terse, typically containing little more than a street address and a two- or three-word description of what is thought to be happening there: “Car Vs Bldg | 225a Wyckoff St Brooklyn, NY | 12/3/2008 8:52 a.m.” Those bits of information allow reporters and photographers to quickly start heading to the scene, giving them perhaps an advantage over their rivals or maybe allowing them to arrive in time to witness events firsthand. Inside a sparsely furnished third-floor suite in the strip mall, in Fort Lee, N.J., a handful of employees work 24 hours a day, tapping out pager messages while surrounded by scanners. The company’s subscribers include journalists, public safety officials, insurance adjusters, utility workers and tow truck operators. Many assignment editors at television stations and daily papers consider the pagers a necessity, if only because they know the competition subscribes.