In my recent mock news report (Olbermann Predicts Daring Clinton Heist), I used the term breaking news. I used it incorrectly, but that was part of the intended humor of the post; in the world of actual news reports, however, it’s more disturbing when breaking news is used incorrectly.
When a story is breaking, it’s a developing story. Only part of the story can be reported now since the final outcome of the story has yet to be determined. Examples of a story that might be reported during a legitimate breaking news story include an ongoing wildfire in which homes are in danger, the story of a hostage situation while negotiators are on the scene, and a report from a helicopter during a car chase. Now, we could have a discussion about what constitutes actual news (a car chase is hardly news), but it’s not hard to determine what is breaking news and what isn’t.
On a major national news network, the reporter said something such as Breaking news: so and so is dead. There is nothing breaking about this story; the person was dead, and he was going to stay that way. The station and the reporter might have had more to say about the person’s death–reaction to it, details about the death, and a summary of his life; however, there was nothing breaking about the story–unless it was the second coming.
We’d have to ask the producers and reporters from the network to know whether the phrase breaking news was used as a way to make the story sound more gripping than it actually was or whether they just don’t know the difference between a breaking news event and the reporting of a story that already happened. Either way, it’s not a positive report about the state of journalism.
Paul’s book–Literally, the Best Language Book Ever