Why news outlets should examine 'breaking news'

Compiled by Chandra Johnson, Deseret News National Edition

Published: Thu, July 31, 2014, 4:05 a.m. MDT

 Does the term \

Does the term "breaking news" mean anything anymore or do media outlets need to retire the worn-out phrase?

(Getty Images)

This just in: Does "breaking news" mean anything anymore?

Not according to The Atlantic's Megan Garber, who penned an indictment this week of The Associated Press' bungled tweet about a plane carrying the bodies of plane crash victims had landed safely in The Netherlands.

The initial tweet, labeled "breaking news," made it sound as if the plane carrying the bodies had itself crash landed. The AP clarified in a later tweet. While the tweet was easy to misunderstand, Garber said the real issue was AP's incessant use of the term "breaking" for a story about a plane landing safely.

"In a crowded information environment, one of the most powerful weapons news organizations have...is the 'BREAKING NEWS' designation," Garber wrote. "This should not be used cavalierly. Or maybe it shouldn't be used at all. The term 'breaking' has been so badly misused at this point that it's quickly losing its meaning."

As Slate's David Weigel wrote back in 2012, the term actually means little to people who don't work in a newsroom.

"Sorry, universe: Facebook, Twitter, chats and microblogs have changed everything. Anyone who’s online can learn news before national news channels report it," Weigel wrote. "The proprietors of Facebook, Twitter and microblog accounts know this, and they abuse their power like children suddenly placed into the cockpits of battle droids."

The term isn't above Internet ridicule, either. Mashable recently reported on a Tumblr list where Twitter users mocked the overuse by putting it to their own use.

"(B)reaking news i am hungry where are u @mom," one user tweeted.

The news that "breaking news" is losing its edge isn't really news at all, given that a generation of information consumers lacks a fundamental trust in journalism. A 2012 study from the Univesity of Texas at Austin found that Millennials align the term "news" with "garbage, lies, propaganda, repetitive and boring."

Perhaps the media should reconsider what it designates as urgent news, or — to Garber's point — news in general.

"A plane landed safely this morning; a dog bit a man. This is not breaking news. It is barely news at all," Garber wrote. "News outlets would do well to remember that."

Email: chjohnson@deseretnews.com

Twitter: ChandraMJohnson

1. one old man
Ogden, UT,
July 31, 2014

All of SLC's news channels seem to be in competition to be first to flash a big red BREAKING NEWS banner across their screens.

Then a "news personality" (yes, that's what they're called) gravely and seriously intones something like, "We have just received reports that a woman from Price has seriously stubbed her toe while entering a fast food restaurant on Main Street. A crew is on the way and we will bring more details as soon as they become available."

That's why I rely on PBS Newshour for most of my information.

2. Hutterite
American Fork, UT,
July 31, 2014

Everything is an 'alert' or 'breaking news' or 'happening now'. It's as if we can't exist without being glued to some so called news channel anymore, even though it's all trivial nonsense. It's all given way to sensationalism.

3. ExDixieIte
Salt Lake City, UT,
July 31, 2014

My all time favorite was when CNN ran a story back in April with the onscreen banner:

BREAKING NEWS Titanic Sank 102 Years Ago Tonight

4. Henry Drummond
San Jose, CA,
July 31, 2014

You just hit one of my pet peeves. Using the words "Breaking News" in king size letters on a bright red background means nothing anymore. The other one is "sources tell the Whatever News" that something not particularly interesting just happened. By using that phrase the news outlet makes it sound like it was and exclusive story secretly provided to them in underground garage meeting at 3:00 AM when it fact it was in a press release. The overuse to these little phrases pretty much guarantees that when there really is news (like "Giant Comet Heading Towards Earth"} nobody will pay any attention.