It's time to ramble on…

The thoughts of a young journalist in southeastern Michigan

The “breaking news” tag: is it broken for the web?

leave a comment »

Even with this “digital transformation” in news delivery, it’s still a very common occurrence: a big story is first reported on, say, for instance, a prominent cabinet announces his resignation. The first group to report it, we’ll say its the Washington Post, publishes a tweet at 1:45 p.m. saying “BREAKING: Secretary of Energy to announce resignation” and posts a link shortly afterward.

Twenty minutes later, another tweet regarding the news will go out, this time from perhaps a college publication or smaller local news org, that says “BREAKING: Cabinet member to resign.”

The question is, when does a story still warrant that “breaking news” label? Is it when the first story is published no matter who does the publishing? Is it “breaking” when its the first notification goes out from that news org? Is it “Breaking” at all? Even Breakingnews.com isn’t always first when it comes to the big stories on Twitter.

Dictionary.com defines the term as “news that is happening and being reported on or revealed at this moment.” So by that terminology, only the first news organization that announces the news has broken it; the rest are just following suit. So why is the term “breaking news” still being used so loosely?

Some inspiration for this question came from Journal Register Company Director of Community Engagement and Social Media Steve Buttry’s post on the news alert sent out by the Post in the very early morning hours, stating the U.S. electorate “was frustrated” a year out from the 2012 presidential election. Buttry writes:

Really? A poll that reveals nothing new and just confirms what everyone knows about the country’s mood deserves a news alert? At 12:18 a.m.?

Buttry calls the timing of the message – being pushed at 12:18 a.m. – “print thinking,” something that definitely won’t help a the digital delivery of news. This led me to the thinking behind this post. The question still plagues many journalists still adapting to a digital delivery: how do we handle big stories that have recently unfolded? Some of us still classify news that is big as “breaking:” to some, this can feel natural; people are checking our site first, so its big news to them, right? But for those we are going to go to places such as Twitter first, by the time they check your site, they already know the news; it isn’t breaking anymore.

I had a conversation with a colleague mine on Twitter several weeks back on this very subject, and came to this conclusion:

In the Web age, the term “breaking” should cease to be used. Nothing is breaking 5 minutes after it happened; its become old.

It doesn’t just apply to big stories, either. Repeatedly, I’ve seen tweets, especially from the Associated Press Twitter account, with the breaking label that doesn’t just seem like “breaking” news. Take this tweet, for example, sent Friday night:

BREAKING: Obama calls Penn State sex-abuse case “heartbreaking” -CC

I don’t disagree that this is important information: The Penn State scandal has dominated news sites all last week, and it was the first comment from the president on the matter. But wouldn’t most people familiar with the Penn State news expect the president to think nothing less? Does this deserve a “breaking” tag, especially when it was sent out on a Friday night, and is nothing but a presidential statement? This type of tweet would be still appropriate to send out, perhaps just dropping the “BREAKING:” altogether.

Is there a better way to convey bigger stories than just labeling them “breaking”? Or is there a better way to use that phrase in a more web-friendly manner?

Advertisements

Written by David Veselenak

November 13, 2011 at 7:41 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: