Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about what breaking news actually is. It started when my non-journalist roommates were complaining that they were alerted of Justin Bieber’s arrest by a news organization’s mobile application. The problem is that neither of them care about his arrest. Alerts when our audience doesn’t want them annoy users and may cause them to delete your mobile application. Starting too many of your tweets with “BREAKING:” ruins the strength of including the word. BREAKING is supposed to catch a reader’s eye in the feed. It’s supposed to be rare. If we overuse it, BREAKING becomes a “newspaper that cried wolf” type of problem. It won’t have as much impact when you actually need to use it.
So, is Justin Bieber’s arrest breaking news? Where should your news organization draw the line on mobile alerts and social media?
Here are some of the tweets about “breaking news” that came across my feed in the last 24 hours:
BREAKING: CVS becomes first large retail pharmacy chain to pull tobacco products from stores. Sales to end by Oct. 1. http://t.co/FbtePFb7Vq
— AJC (@ajc) February 5, 2014
BREAKING: European Central Bank leaves key rate unchanged at record low of 0.25 percent. — The Associated Press (@AP) February 6, 2014
BREAKING: Weekly applications for US unemployment benefits drop to 331,000, in a sign of few layoffs. — The Associated Press (@AP) February 6, 2014
BREAKING: US trade deficit up in December to $38.7 billion but annual deficit fell to lowest in four years. — The Associated Press (@AP) February 6, 2014
BREAKING: US productivity grew at 3.2 percent rate in fourth quarter as labor costs kept falling. — The Associated Press (@AP) February 6, 2014
Breaking News: Senate Fails to Extend Benefits for Long-Term Unemployed http://t.co/eqDfdEsmLj
— The New York Times (@nytimes) February 6, 2014
BREAKING news: New census data show more Americans are getting married. What to read into this re: the economy http://t.co/EWsN3ioRkn
— Sara Kehaulani Goo (@sarakgoo) February 6, 2014
Also, this one.
Ripped my newspaper in half, call it breaking news.
— Troy Osinoff (@yo) February 6, 2014
In all seriousness, that is A LOT of breaking news. Too much.
Which ones are really breaking news?
Here are some criteria to ask before using BREAKING:
1. The supermarket test: If someone in the supermarket says something to me about this event or asks me something about this event and I don’t know what they are talking about, should I be embarrassed? Put another way, is this story something normal people will be talking about in a major way?
Justin Bieber’s arrest: Maybe.
CVS stops selling cigarettes: No.
GM profits lower than expected: No.
2. Know your user test: Who is the audience that will care most about this news? Do those people make up half of my audience or more? Everyone’s definition of breaking news is different. Take your audience and their needs into consideration.
Justin Bieber’s arrest: 1. People who are fans of Justin Bieber. People who are interested in celebrity news. 2. For TMZ, yes. For Huff Post Celeb, yes. For The New York Times, no.
CVS stops selling cigarettes: 1. People who smoke. Anyone interested in health. 2. AJC: no. A health niche publication, yes.
GM profits lower than expected: 1. People with stock in GM. People interested in financial market. Investors. 2. WSJ, yes.
3. Actionability test: Does this news require my readers to take a specific action? Otherwise, if my readers gets this news tomorrow instead of right now, will they be harmed?
Justin Bieber’s arrest: No.
CVS stops selling cigarettes: No. Any actions required are far off.
GM profits lower than expected: Maybe, may require movement in stock market.
Results: If the results of your test are 2/3 or higher, it is breaking news. Otherwise, it is not breaking news.
Justin Bieber’s arrest: Maybe. TMZ, yes. NYT, no. No. = If you are TMZ or a Twitter account devoted to celebrity news, this is breaking news. For every other publication, this is not breaking news.
CVS stops selling cigarettes: No. AJC, no. Health, yes. No. = Nope, not breaking news.
GM profits lower than expected: No. WSJ, yes. Maybe. = For WSJ, this is breaking news. If your publication does not cater to investors, this is not breaking news.
Do you think this is a good metric? Let me know on Twitter if you have your own suggestions.