Breaking news, also known as a special report or news bulletin, is a current issue that broadcasters feel warrants the interruption of scheduled programming and/or current news in order to report its details. Its use is also assigned to the most significant story of the moment or a story that is being covered live. It could be a story that is simply of wide interest to viewers and has little impact otherwise. Many times, breaking news is used after the news network has already reported on this story. When a story has not been reported on previously, the graphic and phrase Just In is sometimes used instead.
The format of a special report or breaking news event on television commonly consists of the current programming suddenly switching to a reverse countdown from 5 or 10 seconds to allow any affiliated stations to switch to the network news feed. There is then an opening graphic, featuring music (such as NBC's "The Pulse of Events", composed by John Williams) which adds an emphasis on the importance of the event. This is usually followed with the introduction of a news anchor, who welcomes the viewer to the broadcast and introduces the story at hand. Lower thirds and other graphics may also be altered than normal to convey a sense of urgency.
Once the story is introduced, the network may, if possible, choose to continue to show a live shot of the anchor or may cut away to video or images of the story that is being followed during the broadcast. Additionally, the coverage may be passed to a reporter at the location of the breaking event, possibly sharing more information about the story as it breaks.
Depending upon the story being followed, the report may last only a few minutes, or continue for multiple hours at a time (events in which the latter instance has occurred include the September 11 attacks and the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting). If coverage continues for an extended amount of time, the network may integrate analysis about the story through analysts in-studio, via phone, satellite, broadband (B-GAN) or through other means of communication. Depending on the severity of the event, regular commercial advertising may be completely suspended for sustained coverage, and network affiliates will be required to insert their station identification in at the top of the hour overlaid during the report rather than through the usual means of a station imaging promo or program reminder.
When the coverage comes to a close, the network may either resume programming that was occurring prior to the event or begin new programming, depending upon the amount of time spent on the coverage. The anchor will usually remind viewers to check the network's website, or watch any cable news channels it may own for more information. If the story breaks during daytime programming, the anchor will usually remind viewers that there will be or might be more details on their local news that day and a full wrap-up on the network's evening news program. Usually regular daytime programming is re-joined in progress and segments may be missed.
If the event occurs during prime time, the anchor will usually remind viewers that there will be more details on their late local news and on the network's overnight news program (if applicable) the next morning. Programming at this time is either joined in progress or started back up at the point of the interruption, depending on whether the program is new to air, highly rated or has time left in its time slot to finish airing. In either of the above instances, network (and in some cases, for local stations, syndicated) programs that have segments not aired or are pre-empted in their entirety by breaking news reports – particularly those that extend to 45 minutes or longer – may have to be rescheduled to air at a later time.
On radio, the process of a breaking news story is somewhat the same, though some different considerations are made for the medium. For instance, a breaking news theme is required by default to have an urgent tenor and be used only for the purpose of true breaking news or bulletins. This is obvious on the local all-news radio stations owned by CBS Radio, which very rarely use a breaking news theme for all but the most urgent and dire of breaking news, and is purposefully structured to give a sense of attention for the listener, almost sounding like an alarm. For local events, continuous coverage may be imposed, or else the station may wait until they have a reporter at the scene and will promise more details of the event as they become available.
National news over a radio network requires constant monitoring by station employees to allow the network coverage to air, although many stations will take the 'urgent' signal sent by the network and break into programming immediately. Again, continuous coverage from a national radio network depends on the severity of the event, and often the network may just pass down the coverage by their local affiliate with spare commentary by the network's anchors.
Other considerations are made also; FM music stations rarely relay breaking news unless it is an event of grave national concern, though local weather warnings are always given.[dubious ] Less urgent events allow a network to feed updates to stations at :20, :30, and :50 after the hour to give a summary of events. Stations are also careful about what stories are relayed during play-by-play broadcasts of professional and college sports, as those are the programs most listened to on radio, so breaking news coverage is limited to only commercial breaks.
In the decades before the 24-hour news networks such as CNN, programming interruptions were restricted to extremely urgent news, such as the death of an important political figure. For example, one of the earliest such interruptions that modern viewers would recognize as "breaking news" coverage was for the assassination of U.S. President John F. Kennedy in 1963, (with CBS News anchorman Walter Cronkite's coverage being especially noted), and as such reflected the relatively crude technology and procedures of that era. Such breaks are now common at 24-hour news channels which may have an anchor available for live interruption at any time. Some networks, such as Sky News, largely emphasize this, even advertising the station as being "first for breaking news".
In various countries and at various news outlets, terms such as "breaking," "urgent," "flash," "bulletin," and "alert" may accompany breaking news reports. The term breaking news has come to replace the older use of news bulletin, with the latter term relegated to only the most extraordinary of events. There has been widespread use of breaking news at the local level, particularly when one station in a market wants to emphasize the exclusivity of coverage. Not all viewers agree that stories assigned as breaking news rise to the significance or level of interest that warrant such a designation.
American network news divisions still use the term special report for either a breaking news story, a developing news story or both, but tend to use the term breaking news on their morning and evening news programs. Most local stations across the United States that interrupt regular programming for a news story use the breaking news and special report terms, with a voice-over stating either "This is a breaking news special report" or "This is a special breaking news report" or "This is a(n) (network name) News Special Report" or "This is a(n) (station brand name) breaking news (special) report." The breaking news ending has a past-tense variation, followed by a disclaimer for viewers who would like more information to see the network's news division website.
In early coverage of a breaking story, details are commonly sketchy, usually due to the limited information that is available at the time. For example, during the Sago Mine disaster, initial reports were that all twelve miners were found alive, but news organizations later found only one actually survived.
Another criticism has been the diluting of the importance of "breaking news" by the need of 24-hour news channels to fill time, applying the title to soft news stories of questionable importance and urgency, for example car chases. Others question whether the use of the term is excessive, citing occasions when the term is used even though scheduled programming is not interrupted. Some programs, such as HLN's Nancy Grace have even used the term for events which occurred months before.
In June 2013, Fox affiliate WDRB in Louisville, Kentucky gained notice in the television industry for a promo criticizing the broad and constant use of the "breaking news" term, explaining that that the term has been overused as a "marketing ploy" by other news-producing stations, who tend to apply the term to stories that are low in urgency and/or relevance. To coincide with the promo, WDRB posted on its website "Contracts" with its viewers and advertisers, with the former list promising to use "breaking news" judiciously (applying it to stories that are "both 'breaking' and "news'").
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