When did “Breaking News” start happening every day? I mean, I get how news stations, particularly on the local level, are scrambling to compete and hold the attention of the viewer. But around my town (and we are not alone), weather is an all alert, hands down, meteorologists working ‘round the clock occasion. For a thunderstorm. Which one might well expect this time of year. And don’t get me started on the anticipatory two-inches-of snow-that-might-just-be-a-dusting reports that turn into an all out weather calamity for days on end!
But I digress. The purpose of this little observation is not to harp on what is happening in today’s newsroom, but to ponder why and what that means for those of us in public relations (and those of you who want us to do a great job on your behalf). I mean, breaking news used to be a rare and truly important occasion, didn’t it?
Yet, I have noticed a major change in what constitutes “Breaking News.” Haven’t you? Granted, as someone’s whose job has very much evolved around getting the attention of those who are issuing those alerts, I am a bit more of a news junkie than the average Joe. But still, someone else is noticing when the raindrops become “Breaking News,” right?
There are very valid times for “Breaking News” and major weather occurrences like we just witnessed in Oklahoma, are without a doubt valid contenders. If a tornado is in my direct path, you can bet I want to know! If a mass murderer is thought to be in the area, yeah, probably ditto on that one. If there is a fire somewhere in the city that isn’t leaking hazardous gas into the air we breathe, well, news item yes … breaking news, no.
Why is this important? Well, one of the major challenges in PR today is helping our companies/clients recognize and build stories that are actually likely to get coverage. In PR, we tout how the news must be newsworthy, timely and relevant. That gets harder to explain when the boss notices what is “top of the newscast” these days.
Now, I suppose you can argue that weather alerts and seemingly everyday news that become “Breaking News” do meet those criteria. But seriously, it’s like the boy who cried wolf. After awhile, everything sounds like “Breaking News” so you just tune it out.
What seems to have driven this change is the valid desperation that news operations feel today to find and keep viewers. After all, more viewers mean more advertisers. And more advertisers mean more money. News is business. Journalistic purism is valiant but it apparently doesn’t pay the bills anymore. Or at least, that seems to be the prevalent thought.
There is no question that more and more people are tuning out their local news. Yes, it is a vicious circle. Less people watch = more desperation for the station = more calls to “differentiate” = yep, more “Breaking News.” Now, I don’t mean to be harsh. I sincerely respect news directors, assignment editors and reporters who I know are just trying to do their job. And that is one tough job that just isn’t getting any easier! But I also see the changing use of “Breaking News” causing a dilemma for those of us in PR.
Granted, many may not even care what their local news station is calling “Breaking News.” They are more focused on generating coverage in New Media, i.e. online venues. But, I can guarantee you if their company, client or customer wants to be on that newscast or heaven forbid, they are somehow the subject of that “Breaking News” that isn’t so hot … I am betting they will want to know how to make their side of the story stand out. And sooner rather than later, that generalization of what constitutes “Breaking News” will infiltrate social media and any “medium of the day” — so get ready!
With that, here are a few questions PR (and all those who work with PR) should ask to help ensure our attempts at “Breaking News” actually meet the criteria to be called newsworthy, timely and relevant. Hey, maybe our friends in the newsroom will join us.
Newsworthy – Beyond the obvious, “how is your story unique?” Ask yourself: How many people will be impacted by your story? Will it make them change something important – their thoughts, actions or reactions? Will it stand out against the barrage of competing messages coming their way on a busy day?
Timely – Is your news so timely that it must be told today? What makes it more important today than next week? Is it tied to a national trend? Is your story a localization of a bigger news item, like a national news story or current happening?
Relevant – are you telling the story to the right audience? Will the viewer/reader/listener care? Does it impact them personally? This is where today’s “Breaking News” breaks down, in my humble opinion. Just as it is sometimes difficult to discern the relevance of breaking news for the broader audience, it is often challenging for PR to help internal customers recognize relevance. Ask yourself: are you telling or selling? Telling, which you can think of here as informing, is relevant. Selling — rarely so in news.
And while this isn’t exactly “Breaking News,” I sure hope it is news you can use!
- MSNBC president: Don’t count on us for breaking news (redalertpolitics.com)
- Before You Break Into Breaking News (inkhouse.net)
- Another News Channel Abandons ‘Advertising Trick’ Of ‘Breaking News’ Coverage (mediaite.com)