BREAKING NEWS: The News is Broken
If I had a dollar for every time I've heard the term "BREAKING NEWS" uttered by broadcasters recently, I could probably take a leisurely vacation to some exotic locale. Admittedly, there have been numerous recent incidents – both tragic and heroic – that have deserved the designation.
But there have been plenty of other examples that clearly stretch the legitimate application of the term.
Can you say “NEWSROOMS RUN AMOK”?
Faced with sinking ratings, sparse resources and a surplus of new competitors, traditional news media are desperate to hang onto the slivers of the foothold they once had in our lives. And they realize it's during BREAKING NEWS events – terrorism, school shootings, political scandals – when they DO still matter.
That must be why they seem to almost revel in tragedies – and seek to extend them for as long as possible.
Perhaps that’s an unfair characterization. And while I don't mean to diminish the tireless efforts of overworked reporters/editors/producers/crew, I can’t help but notice how some broadcasters appear practically giddy as they report harrowing events.
Also troubling is the slipshod reporting that often results when speed-to-market becomes the primary aspiration. Facts are bungled, wrong suspects are implicated and mistakes are made. Far too many of them.
And so much of it could be avoided if someone just made the effort to validate sources and confirm speculation. Instead, the promise of scoop snuffs out any concern of potential misreporting.
Blurring the Line Between ‘Breaking News’ and ‘News’
In its original context, the term breaking news was used to signify current events that were so important, so urgent, that they warranted the interruption of regularly scheduled programming. The phrase was reserved for catastrophic events such as the assassination of the President or a tragic plane crash.
Since 24-hour news channels and social media platforms came on the scene, of course, there’s no need to break into programming, as news is the programming.
But the mainstream TV networks are hardly willing to surrender their audiences to these brash upstarts. When a major event happens, they want to leverage the opportunity to grab attention.
At its core, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. Where it starts to get dicey (for me) is when the definition of breaking news is relaxed so profoundly that it’s rendered practically meaningless. Instead, it’s used primarily as a device to exploit the news and manipulate viewers.
I understand why they do it. The news marketplace is increasingly cluttered and confusing. Networks want us to choose their programming over the umpteen other news and entertainment options out there.
Well I’ve got some BREAKING ADVICE for them: Don't abuse the power of your platforms. Chicken Little strategies only work for so long before we tune you out – both figuratively and literally.
Meanwhile, I'll fantasize about that exotic vacation -- maybe on the maiden voyage of the renovated Carnival Triumph.