How “Breaking News” Should be Defined

A bold graphic reading “Breaking News” catches news viewers’ eyes. When is the phrase appropriate? When is it overused? Do viewers become desensitized to the term?

Between Feb. 20 and Feb. 24, ABC flashed “Breaking News” on screen every night. NBC and CBS did not.

On Feb. 21, ABC displayed “Breaking News” most of the political newscast. It spanned two stories, one on immigration crackdown, the other on Trump and anti-Semitism. This trend repeated throughout the week.

NBC rarely displays “Breaking News” on screen. However, it was used on Dec. 24 when Trump said he would close the Donald J. Trump Foundation “to avoid even the appearance of any conflict with my role as President.”

CBS does not use the “Breaking News” graphic nor a bar on the lower third of the screen that suggests urgency. Below are screenshots from each network on Feb. 16 covering the same Trump press conference.

 NBC News 2/16/2017

ABC News 2/16/2017

CBS News 2/16/2017

“[ABC is] misusing the phrase ‘breaking news,’” Linda Mason, former CBS senior vice president for standards, said. “The three networks tend to wrap up the day’s news and rarely report on something that is breaking at that moment. Cable news is often on the scene during the day and legitimately labels its reporting ‘breaking news’ because the story they are reporting on is happening now, before our eyes.”

Asked whether Americans will become desensitized to the phrase, Mason responded, “I think so. Suddenly EVERYTHING is breaking news even though Americans are actually watching an edited, thought out report about an incident that was once ‘breaking news.’”

“Live I guess is the distinction,” Mason said. “Live is happening now… [If a story becomes available at 6 o’clock] that might be the exception…that is breaking news. It’s something that just happened as you’re on the air or just as you went on the air and so it’s new. So in those times, I guess it’s ok. But that isn’t what’s happening…‘Breaking news’ should mean that it’s just happening and otherwise, you don’t use it.”

Below are additional screenshots of ABC’s newscasts between February 20 and February 24:

ABC News 2/20/2017

ABC News 2/22/2017

ABC News 2/22/2017

ABC News 2/23/2017

ABC News 2/23/2017

ABC News 2/23/2017

ABC News 2/24/2017





Ilana Bernstein

Ilana Bernstein is a junior pursuing a double degree in broadcast journalism and theatre at the University of Maryland, College Park. Ilana has interned for Girls’ Life Magazine and has had numerous articles published online. She was featured in the magazine. Ilana is a staff reporter for The Writer’s Bloc, an online publication that focuses on arts, culture and politics. Ilana has a passion for travel and community service and has worked with inmates at a prison in Connecticut, visited Estonia and Latvia, and visited with people previously on death row in New Orleans. Ilana can be reached at:

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