Breaking News: Local news stations, 24-hour news networks and news organizations on Twitter over-use the phrase “breaking news” to grab attention and increase ratings.
If your local broadcast news station somehow manages to have one “breaking” story at some point during the newscast every night, chances are the news they are reporting isn’t actually important to your life. More than likely, it is a fire, flashing blue lights at the scene of a crime, or celebrity news — all of which make good video.
Traditionally, news was called breaking if a.) regular programming, or the newscast itself was interrupted due to an important news event or b.) the news organization reporting the story was the first to report it.
Nowadays, breaking news basically means, “news that wasn’t scheduled and that we weren’t intending to cover today.” Most journalists would just call that “news.”
News stations don’t often break into programming for these stories, but they will claim to have breaking news in their promo pieces encouraging you to tune in at 5 to see this earth-shattering story that every other station in town is also covering and calling “breaking.”
The truth is, modern “breaking” news — with its irrelevance and flashy graphics– may actually be breaking the news. The media in this case have become the boy who cried wolf. If “breaking news” means strong storms with high winds and lightning are coming nine times during the year, how will viewers take you seriously the 10th time when it is an actual tornado? If “breaking news” is a celebrity getting into a fist fight, it cheapens and mutes important issues of public safety and health like a disease outbreak or a dangerous criminal who is on the loose.
As journalists, we are doing the public a great disservice when Justin Bieber’s latest legal troubles are labeled breaking news and appear at the top of the newscast, but issues impacting public health, safety, or education are relegated to short segments in the B-block. If this trend continues, the public confuse non-news items and celebrity drivel to be real news. Perhaps they already do.