Breaking News: This Shouldn’t Be Advertised as Breaking News

Cable news appears to be redefining the meaning of breaking news and reaping ad dollars along the way.

| Jason Bagley

I’ll admit it: Sometimes all it takes is one reader to remark “slow news day?” in the comments section of one of my articles to get under my skin. I mean, how dare they. Fortunately there have not been many slow news days of late. In fact, for many journalists, it’s been quite the opposite.

For proof look no further than the ever-present breaking news coverage across the 24-hour cable news channels. Flip on Fox News, CNN, or MSNBC right now and chances are there’s a chyron splashed across the bottom of the screen screaming “BREAKING NEWS” or “NEWS ALERT.” But if you’re wondering how news can always be breaking, thanks for asking.

(Above, a recent CNN ad touting its breaking news coverage.)

Each of the Big Three round-the-clock news channels relies on breaking news to drive ratings and, ostensibly, the higher the ratings the more they can charge marketers to advertise on their networks. But in their shared push for eyeballs and ad dollars, each network has, to put it mildly, stretched the meaning of breaking news.

Here are three recent examples, none of which, I’m pretty sure, qualify as “news of transcendent importance,” which is how the AP saw breaking news decades before the proliferation of 24-hour cable news:


It’s not just the president’s tweets breaking the news these days but also reaction to said postings by members of his White House staff. After Trump in a tweet referred to Attorney General Jeff Sessions as “our beleaguered A.G.” then-communications director Anthony Scaramucci told a CNN reporter that the president and Sessions should have a sit-down to smooth things over. This constituted breaking news according to CNN, which kept its “BREAKING NEWS” chyron up past 8 p.m. even though Scaramucci’s comment was received “earlier in the day” according to another CNN reporter interviewed in the segment.


The president receiving a visitor at the White House is far from breaking news. Moving on.

Fox News

How a plug for a news show can be cast as breaking news is beyond me. But that’s what the Twitter account that highlights Fox New’s breaking news (@foxnewsalert) has accomplished here. And then again two hours later for another Fox News show, Hannity, hosted by Sean Hannity. reached out to the three networks for comment. Check back for updates.

Find more of our coverage on the news here.

Jason Bagley

Jason Bagley, writer at, is still romantic about journalism and believes in its power to educate and inform.

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