Networks misuse their breaking news alerts


This is not a breaking news alert. And I am not nitpicking.

Even in the increasingly speedy digital world, in which it seems that events and reports of those events occur simultaneously, some events in the flood of information are genuinely urgent. They deserve to be singled out as important and deserving of special attention.

But, more and more, networks issue breaking news alerts to promote some exclusive story they have broken rather than an occurrence of broad social significance.

The email above that I just received is not breaking news. It is a promotion for the news broadcast on which the new details about the Secret Service prostitution will be broadcast.

I’m sure that CBS is thrilled that their special senior correspondent John Miller has come up with more sleazy details. I’m even honest enough — not proud, but honest — to admit more than a little curiosity about what those details might be.

But while curiosity is natural, it is not a substitute for news judgement. Like most human beings, I’m curious about a lot of sleazy things. But that doesn’t make them “breaking news.” (Actually, I’m not sure I’d want them to be “news” anywhere but in the confines of my fully human imagination.)

CBS is the network of Bob Schieffer, one if the most trusted and wise voices in broadcast journalism, perhaps THE most trusted. Alerts like this cheapen the CBS news brand that pros like Bob have nurtured. They are not worthy of a serious news organization.

A Secret Service agent confessing revelations about a prostitution scandal is not breaking news. It may be newsworthy, given the implications of a breach in the system that supposedly protects our President.

But it is not breaking news.

Does This Rise to the Level of an Urgent News Bulletin?

Some of you who know about my ongoing love/hate relationship with 24 hour cable news (sadly, more disgust and disappointment than anything else) might assume that I ask the following question with my mind already made up.

Not true. I am really curious about what you think.

It is now September 2, 2008 at 4:06PM. I just received the news bulletin below. I subscribe to the breaking news bulletins of every major network and cable news source. Do you think  this rises to the “urgent” level of newsworthiness? No other network has distributed it.

The question is not whether this is serious. Of course it is.

How, though, should we define “breaking news?” Might this have actually been a “bulletin” with the primary purpose of increasing the television audience?

Update: The plane landed safely in the last 15 minutes, about ten minutes after I received the bulletin.

—–Original Message—–
Sent: Tuesday, September 02, 2008 3:50 PM
To: BREAKINGNEWS Subscribers
Subject: FNC Alert


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