Having set up a new phone recently, I started receiving “Breaking News” alerts from the BBC. I must have accidentally granted permission when installing the app. I left them turned on, thinking perhaps this time I might find it useful, especially given the precarious worldwide situation right now. Within hours though, I remembered why I’d turned them off years ago – not just from the BBC – from all news apps.
In my mind, I had “breaking news” as meaning “important news worthy of interrupting your day”. The would obviously include kind of thing the BBC may have traditionally interrupted television programming for; the death of a monarch, war breaking out, or the announcement of a lockdown due to a global pandemic. Of course an alert on your phone isn’t the same cancelling the nation’s favourite weekly medical drama, and so I expected alerts with slightly less gravity but still serious and impactful all the same.
This is not what “breaking news” means. In the news business, breaking news is news that is “new news”. This is why we get alerts about a press conference that is due to start on time, as scheduled. While I have no direct knowledge of the media business, it seems to me that there is a race between various news broadcasters to be the first to “break” news. I’m sure that by adding “breaking news” to a story it feeds the audience’s desire to read the latest gossip, and this generates clicks, which looks good for the reporter in question. It’s similar how in the early days of the pandemic when we had daily briefings, rather than insightful questions from health or science correspondents, we had political correspondents trying to outdo each other in trying to ask the most original and intricate question, hoping to trip up the politician at the podium.
While there is no doubt an audience of avid news junkies who enjoy receiving notifications about mundane events as they happen, I think there’s a larger need for alerts about serious and important events only. Please, news broadcasters, give us the choice!