Breaking News Television and the Negative Effects of Watching Too Much TV News
Breaking News is Easily Accessible at Our Fingertips
Breaking News in America and Around the World
In our constant state of American frenzy, waiting for the next building to topple upon us, the hairs on our necks salute to the phrase, "BREAKING NEWS."
Since the 1990s, it seems that our perpetual wait for bad things to happen, increased exponentially.
We have become obsessed with the news, what's trending, and what's breaking. However, it seems that our attention easily shifts from significant events such as hostages being held and wars being declared to more sensational events such as DUI arrests of celebrities and animals getting stuck in holes, which nowadays rate as breaking news.
Unfortunately, we are frequently reminded of the real life-and-death breaking news stories that change our lives forever. These are the unexpected and horrific events that impact us psychologically and emotionally.
What is Breaking News?
According to Wikipedia:
"Breaking news is a special report or news bulletin that is a current event that the broadcasters feel warrant the interruption of scheduled programming and/or current news in order to report its details."
[Interesting, huh? How many times have you heard a newscaster say, "we don't have any details right now but we will update you as soon as we have more." So why are they reporting on it? We'll cover that later.]
Wikipedia goes on to say that,
"many times, the phrase 'breaking news' is used after the news network has already reported the story. When a story hasn't been previously reported, the phrase, 'just in' is sometimes used instead.
'Breaking news' is often loosely assigned to the most significant story of the moment or a story that is coming in live. It could also be a story that is simply of wide interest to viewers and has little impact otherwise."
TV Anchors Thrive on Reporting Breaking News
The Impact of Watching Breaking News
Are you impacted by watching breaking news?
Breaking News . . . Really?
Why then, are the networks at national and local levels using the breaking news phrase more often now than 20 years ago? The term used to be "news bulletin" or simply "special report" primarily used by networks and occasionally by local stations.
Well, we know that it's really about being the first reporter, news organization, or network station to say, "You heard it here first." They want to ensure that they are the first to report the most intriguing and sensational story for ratings.
High ratings translate into happy advertisers who pay hefty fees to the networks and whose products sell. So stories of significance that would occur on occasion back in the day now seem to generate around the clock. This makes for big business, particularly for the all-news networks.
Everyone wants to be the first on the scene to cover anything that's happening now. Secondarily, 24-hour news networks have to fill all that time with something. Stories that aren't that urgent become urgent and significant enough to rate as "breaking."
[Another interesting observation, huh? Again how many times have you heard a newscaster say, "We don't have a reporter on the scene yet, but as soon as we get some footage, we'll bring it to you. But if you have a video, please send it to us."]
The Presidential Podium
Getting the News Facts Straight
A related element of the "breaking news" frenzy is the competition among media outlets to be the first to report a story, seen as a major coup in the business of journalism. However, the consequence of rushing to press is that sometimes inaccurate reporting occurs.
According to Tony Rogers of About.com Guide, "media outlets rush too quickly to be first on a breaking story and end up reporting things that turn out to be wrong." He cites the recent faux pas by several major news organizations that reported that Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords had died in a mass shooting in Tucson, AZ.
He added that this erroneous story had also gone out on twitter. This is an unfortunate example of what can happen when the details and truth of a story are sacrificed in order to air, print, or tweet the dramatic "breaking story."
Multiple News Stories Break Simultaneously
Shocking News Stories Catch and Hold Our Attention
Breaking News Broadcaster Walter Cronkite
Top Breaking News Stories In Media History
The following stories come closest to fitting the criteria for what I believe the intended definition of "breaking news" was meant to encompass:
- Coverage in real time; event happening as we are watching.
- Events are rapidly changing and/or developing right before our eyes.
- The story impacts the majority of viewers either politically, socially, or personally.
- A reporter/news team is physically on the scene with a microphone, a video camera, Skype, iPhone, Facebook live, or livestreaming channel and has access to a credible information source.
- The story involves some type of significant tragedy, death, serious accident, trauma, or major political/social announcement that would create a turn-of-event moment impacting history.
In Chronological Order:
The Iran Hostage Crisis - At that point in time, the story had more extensive coverage on television and in the press than had any other event since WWII; 52 American were taken hostage at the US Embassy in Tehran; the ordeal lasted for 444 days. [11/4/79 - 1/20/81]
The Persian Gulf War aka Operation Desert Storm - The first US war since the Vietnam War ended in 1972 produces images of war battle that were seen by a generation for the first time. [2/28/91]
The OJ Simpson Bronco Chase - Speeding down the highways of Los Angeles, it was Hollywood theater at its best, as camera shots were close enough to have captured live, the suicide of OJ in the moving truck, had he pulled the trigger. [6/17/94]
Terrorist Attacks of the World Trade Center in NYC, the Pentagon, and a field in Shanksville, PA - Iconic images of the falling towers are forever etched in our minds, revealing a vulnerability never seen in American culture. [9/11/01]
The Beltway Snipers Random Shootings of 13 people in the Washington, DC metro area over a 21-day period - The case broke in the wee hour of the morning when a picture of one of the suspects was aired for the first time, revealing an African-American former Army marksman. [10/2002]
The Iraq War aka "Shock-n-Awe" Bombing of Baghdad - Never before seen compelling and spectacular video feed of the bombing of Baghdad in real time, resembling a light show. [5/20/03]
Hurricane Katrina - The mix of shock and anger over the massiveness of the hurricane, race and class implications, lawlessness, and inept government response elevated the significance of this television event to heights never before witnessed, even by the reporters on the scene; 1,833 were killed. [8/28/05]
The Sago Mine Disaster in West Virginia - 13 dead, one survivor; over a two-day period it was an edge-of-your-seat ordeal not knowing if they were alive or dead. [1/2/06]
The Virginia Tech Massacre - the largest mass murder at a school in American history; for 2 hours, it was unknown that two scenes were connected to a lone gunman who killed 32 people then himself; the tragedy heightened to controversy over gun laws, access, and mental health stability. [4/16/07]
The Death of Michael Jackson - The confirmation of his death by family members at a press conference a few hours later, put to rest all denial that his death wasn't true, ranking as one of the most shocking moments in media history around the world. [6/28/10]
The Uprising in Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt - The witnessing of the birth of democracy, bravery, and determination of a people in real time was a very emotional and moving moment in world history. [2/2/11]
The Tragic Death of Whitney Houston - The juxtaposition of her dead body laying in the same hotel where a party in her honor was to be held that same evening stunned viewers, creating a conflict about appropriately grieving, yet honoring the dead; the speculation around cause of death further sensationalized this tragic story. [2/14/12]
The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy - The first time a sitting president had been murdered in modern times, witnessed by many during a presidential motorcade ride through Dallas, Texas. [11/22/63]
The Assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. - This news ripped through the soul of our nation, particularly the African-American community, some of whom regarded Dr. King as a spiritual leader and savior who would alter the conscience of the American people. [4/4/68]
Visual Media Informs Us of What's Breaking
Exposure to Tragedy Has Emotional Impact
Breaking News and its Impact on Our Psyches
I can't help but feel manipulated by the media to look for and anticipate the next breaking news story. I admit that I'm a news junkie, always looking for the latest crisis or catastrophe that could devastate us. Of course I have free will to cut it off or change the channel but it does become intriguing and, at times, addictive. And they know it. So the media continues to feed our insatiable addiction to what's breaking and what will happen next.
There are buzz words that condition us to keep watching, e.g., "News Alert," "Just In," "More To Come," or "This Is A Special Report." Urgency is created by the visual itself, seeing the graphic "BREAKING NEWS" at the bottom of your television screen, sometimes accompanied by a staccato jingle. The jingles were (and in some areas, still are) very effective in the in the era of news radio.
These visual and auditory triggers enhance our anticipation of the worse and make us want the details as soon as possible.
Pain and Grief Seen on the Faces of Witnesses
The Psychological Effects
On a psychological level, we are certainly being conditioned by the media, whether it's their blatant intention or not.
Breaking news creates anticipatory anxiety about what has happened and what is to come. It is also linked to our pre-existing and unresolved anxieties about what has happened in the past and the extent to which it could happen again.
One example of this is the traumatic events surrounding the fears created by the "Beltway Sniper Attacks" in the Washington, DC metropolitan area. Thirteen people were shot, 10 died by the hands of two men who terrorized the area for 3 weeks in October of 2002, shooting people at random in DC, MD, and VA.
Initial thought was that the crimes were being committed by Al Qaeda terrorists carrying out the next attack a year after the September 11th attacks, which gave the phrase, "BREAKING NEWS" a whole new meaning and effect on the American psyche.
Up to that point, there had been no other event since the coverage of the Iraq War in 2003 that had so defined the meaning of breaking news. Because of the unspeakable events of September 11th, its coverage was the last truly organic use of the "breaking news" phrase.
I think we have all been traumatized, broadcasters and viewers alike, by the anticipation of something really bad happening, having to report on it and having to watch it, respectively. The excessive use of the media tool "BREAKING NEWS" is actually an extension of that trauma, coupled with the need to create and report on sensational news.
Networks anticipate the next great story and the benefits it brings. Those benefits include emotionally-charged interviews with victims, high ratings, monetary gain for advertisers and accolades from peers for best coverage.
I would argue that watching the news has never been the same since September 11th. The only change is that the "BREAKING NEWS" graphic is no longer about September 11th. But we anticipate that it might be. So we watch . . . and wait . . . with anxiety and anticipation, only to find that . . . . "The heralded Astronaut Neil Armstrong died this morning at his home at the age of 82."
We are saddened and recall his significant contributions to American society, as we breathe a sigh of relief that a building didn't topple down and kill a bunch of people after it was hit by an airplane.
And now, as we add to our mind's file the more recent traumatic events like the Sandy Hook Elementary School Massacre, the Bombings at the Boston Marathon, and the shooting massacre at the Washington Navy Yard, we start over again, reliving all of the tragedies as if they happened yesterday.
Hovering Helicopters Catch Breaking News
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
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© 2012 Janis Leslie Evans