BBG Launches Mobile First, Live-Reporting Platform

relay1Say what you will about the government, but it might have just changed how we think of breaking news platforms. Go figure.

The Office of Digital and Design Innovation at the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) has released Relay, a mobile first platform for real-time reporting.

It’s interesting from both the backend and the consumer’s experience. In terms of the CMS, it’s not hard to train reporters how to use it, according to Randy Abramson, Director of Audio and Video Projects at the BBG. Reporters in the field submit content via email, by including the content type (text, video, audio) and the designated hashtag for a story in the subject line. Says Abramson, “then you just include your message in the email and it’s filtered through the system.”

Editors can also assign multiple permissions and stories. Some content, like a video interview, can be published immediately. Other breaking news content will be sent to a queue to be reviewed, verified, and fact checked. Says Abramson:

Fact checking is a definite concern for the BBG and our services….At the same time, there are a lot of types of stories that don’t have to go through the same type of fact checking as a breaking news story. If you’re covering SXSW or something, you can  publish very quickly.relay-mandela-death-pakistan2

For the news consumer, it’s easy to follow breaking, real-time reporting. Each story has a unique URL, so you don’t have to already be following Voice of America, for example, or download an app. Instead of searching through various social media feeds for info, it’s all collected on the Relay site.

Abramson told Tom Grasty in a PBS IdeaLab blog post:

The design is built on a ‘card’ metaphor. Think of how you swipe though iPhoto where each piece of content sits on its own, devoid of competing ‘related links’ or distracting advertisements. There is also a unique timeline that allows users to scroll back and forth through content and catch up on coverage that they may have missed. In addition, users can sign up for email alerts — SMS alerts are coming soon — to keep them connected and engaged with our ongoing coverage. All of this is built on a responsive design that is visually optimized for the mobile devices that users are using in off hours as stories continue to develop. And the journalist never has to open a content management system. That ease and speed is key since it allows the journalist to concentrate more on reporting and less about the process of publishing.

As a government agency, there is no business model and the code for Relay is up at Github. Abramson told me over the phone:

Because we’re the government, we’re much more excited about getting the code out there and having people use it and having people improve on it. And because we’re the government, we also have less resources and we’d  like to see a developer or a blogger take the code, make it better, and then everyone can enjoy the benefits.

Relay has been used by the Voice of America to report on reactions to Mandela’s passing in Pakistan and for other test stories by other BBG networks. But other news agencies, such as New Channel 4 in the UK and government agencies like NASA and the State Department have expressed interest in using the platform, according to Abramson. “We’re really excited about the project,” Abramson says, “we think we have something here and are excited to see how others use it.”

They’re still working on a landing site for Relay, but for more information and updates you can contact Abramson at or @randyabramson. You can also follow the BBG’s Office of Digital Design and Innovation Lab at @BBGInnovate.

What do you think about the platform? What about email submission?