I recently posted a question on Twitter, “ Should ‘breaking news’ go on the cliche list at this point?” The amount of views on that post was tremendous. So let’s delve in a bit more shall we?
I get asked how and when to use the term breaking news a lot. For good reason. The term “breaking news” has taken on a wild and crazy life of its own in TV news. Its been a long ride. And just like some rides at Disney, it is time for an upgrade.
Breaking news is overused. There I said it. Especially by cable news outlets and some local broadcasting groups. The thinking is if you state immediacy viewers cannot help but watch. Problem is, when you really think about it, most breaking news on TV is dated, compared to digital news. The very fact that newscasts are on at set times, ruins the appeal of using “breaking news” in most stories. (Even cable outlets have set viewers for set time slots.) In fact, viewers know you are likely just exaggerating. Just look at studies about credibility and TV news.
Digital is changing things for sure, and it begins with the use of the term breaking news as a crutch to try and get viewers to stick around and consider newscasts relevant because its “breaking” information.
Especially when you look at the definition of cliche: A phrase or opinion that is overused and betrays a lack of original thought. (Dictionary of Oxford Languages) This one by Merriam-Webster makes the point more clear: a trite phrase or expression. In other words, used so much that it has become boring, and perhaps lost its original meaning.
Viewers who tend to like news, tend to also look at digital resources. Yes this can even include some Boomers. Especially with more newspapers offering less expensive digital formats than getting the paper thrown into the driveway each morning. So these viewers, are seeing through the gimmick that “breaking news” has turned into. Its become boring, unoriginal and frankly, not worth tuning in for.
If everything is breaking then nothing truly breaks. Memorize that mantra.
So let’s give “breaking news” that makeover it so deserves. First, a made for TV definition: Breaking news is news that started happening during your newscast, and new elements are continuing to present themselves. You are sharing information that has not made air before in other newscasts. This is information you are gathering, right at that moment.
So if a newsworthy event happened two hours before your show, then ended before your show is it breaking? NO. It was breaking for digital two hours ago if you have a kick butt team in that section of your newsroom. But for TV, no. Instead think: latest developments. The story is new since the last newscast, and the goal is to continue to expand on key facts while you are on the air. You are filling in the viewer. It is new, but not breaking.
Is Covid breaking news? There are constant new elements presenting themselves all day each day if you really think about it. I am going to argue, proceed with caution. Breaking news, feels like a gimmick to casual viewers. (The regulars likely tune out the labeling period, still no benefit to you.) So happening right now, or latest update or developing can work in this scenario. Or you could avoid all of these “news branding” phrases and just say what is going on. Viewers still assume you are at least trying to bring them “new” information in a newscast. They give you some points for that effort still. Why not use that to your advantage and save time and energy just telling them the facts without a label at all? In terms of Covid so much is happening, it feels like a tidal wave. The viewers need something to cling on to, perspective. New information isn’t always enough to satisfy audience needs.
Breaking news can have a place in the newscast, but to me it should at least be a strong contender for the cliche list. Avoid. Focus instead on just consistently updating stories, so everything is new. Viewers expect that and frankly many take it for granted. Labeling things new and breaking constantly can shine light on the fact that the rest of your content is likely old. Especially in the digital age. By focusing less on the label, and more on the information itself you will gain more trust with the viewer.