Student guest post: “Breaking news” is broken

Students in JOMC 457, Advanced Editing, are writing guests posts for this blog this semester. This is the 10th of those posts. Mark Lihn is a senior journalism and political science major from Arlington, Virginia. He will begin pursuing a master’s degree in international relations next fall. 

In today’s media world, people get their news from a wide variety of sources, from television to the Internet to newspapers. While the print industry is struggling, it was never the ideal method of distribution for breaking news. However, the Internet and social media are perfectly equipped to spread the newest news, keeping people updated on their tablets, computers and smartphones.

But how long can breaking news be considered “breaking”?

The rise of the 24-hour news cycle in cable television and the Internet has had its advantages. News is more accessible across the country than ever before. If I want to know what is going on in the world, I simply have to check an application on my phone or turn on my computer or television. We generally learn breaking news long before I have to turn on a television or computer though.

The first time I hear a big news story tends to be through word of mouth or my smartphone. I either see the news on Twitter or my CNN app first, or I hear about it from a friend who learned about it a similar way. In today’s modern society, it seems safe to assume that most people who would turn to the Internet for their news get their breaking news this way.

The amount of time a story remains “breaking” is open to interpretation. It certainly seems safe to assume though that a story I have heard about three or four times already is no longer breaking news to me.

Why then do websites like CNN.com insist on having a breaking news story front and center 24/7? If a story broke in the morning, then in the afternoon, it is no longer “breaking.”

Such is the case with most of the major stories that CNN covers, like the recent tragedy of the plane crash in France. The crash of the plane was a breaking news story. However, the first story that the plane crashed keeps its timeliness far longer than any update to that story. The update that the co-pilot of the Germanwings plane was medically unfit to work broke this morning. At 4 p.m., the same update to a story that began three days ago is still labeled “breaking.”

The infatuation with breaking news on Internet news sites leads to the devaluation of breaking news. I have become immune to the monstrously large headlines and pictures of the lead pack on CNN’s site. They are always there, no matter what is going on the world, there seems to be a breaking news story.

News happens all of the time, which is why it is news. Simply because a story is new, though, does not make it a breaking news story.

Editors need to be more aware that they can wear out their audiences by overusing the categorization of breaking news. Breaking news stories can garner clicks, leading indirectly to increased revenue, but if editors are not careful, their audiences will become immune to their stories and their sites. It is something I have encountered with CNN, and it has led me to look for other news sources.