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.