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Why news outlets should examine 'breaking news'

Published: Thursday, July 31 2014 4:05 a.m. MDT

Updated: Thursday, July 31 2014 12:12 p.m. MDT

Does the term "breaking news" mean anything anymore or do media outlets need to retire the worn-out phrase?

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This just in: Does "breaking news" mean anything anymore?

Not according to The Atlantic's Megan Garber, who penned an indictment this week of The Associated Press' bungled tweet about a plane carrying the bodies of plane crash victims had landed safely in The Netherlands.

The initial tweet, labeled "breaking news," made it sound as if the plane carrying the bodies had itself crash landed. The AP clarified in a later tweet. While the tweet was easy to misunderstand, Garber said the real issue was AP's incessant use of the term "breaking" for a story about a plane landing safely.

"In a crowded information environment, one of the most powerful weapons news organizations have...is the 'BREAKING NEWS' designation," Garber wrote. "This should not be used cavalierly. Or maybe it shouldn't be used at all. The term 'breaking' has been so badly misused at this point that it's quickly losing its meaning."

As Slate's David Weigel wrote back in 2012, the term actually means little to people who don't work in a newsroom.

"Sorry, universe: Facebook, Twitter, chats and microblogs have changed everything. Anyone who’s online can learn news before national news channels report it," Weigel wrote. "The proprietors of Facebook, Twitter and microblog accounts know this, and they abuse their power like children suddenly placed into the cockpits of battle droids."

The term isn't above Internet ridicule, either. Mashable recently reported on a Tumblr list where Twitter users mocked the overuse by putting it to their own use.

"(B)reaking news i am hungry where are u @mom," one user tweeted.

The news that "breaking news" is losing its edge isn't really news at all, given that a generation of information consumers lacks a fundamental trust in journalism. A 2012 study from the Univesity of Texas at Austin found that Millennials align the term "news" with "garbage, lies, propaganda, repetitive and boring."

Perhaps the media should reconsider what it designates as urgent news, or — to Garber's point — news in general.

"A plane landed safely this morning; a dog bit a man. This is not breaking news. It is barely news at all," Garber wrote. "News outlets would do well to remember that."

Email: chjohnson@deseretnews.com

Twitter: ChandraMJohnson

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