Breaking news … it ain’t what it used to be

Breaking News!

The alert hit my inbox at about 8:30 this morning, while I was still lying in bed and sorting through my Google Reader headlines.

Oh dear … what fresh hell could this be, I thought.

Following “breaking news” on the subject line, I read: How to Use LinkedIn’s NEW Company Pages for Marketing.

Now sometimes I find myself being a bit of a journalism snob. After 15 years in the industry, I think I know a thing or two about it.

First, breaking news should be fresh, up-to-the-minute, the most recent, most world-affecting news possible. It is traditionally reserved for the most important news of the day.

As defined by Wikipedia, “breaking news” is:

current event which broadcasters feel compelled to temporarily interrupt scheduled programming and/or current news in order to report its details

LinkedIn’s new company pages, however, were unveiled five days ago on the social network’s own blog. It’s also been written about already on WebProNews, PCWorld and even Hubspot, the source of this morning’s email.

And so somehow, a guide on how to use LinkedIn’s new company pages — essentially a followup story (a.k.a. a ‘follow’) on what could be considered breaking news, I suppose — just doesn’t seem to resonate with me.

Maybe there’s some value in considering that social media has changed the idea of “breaking news.” A new Tumblr account tracks the mentions of breaking news on Twitter and we get to see — amid posts from USA Today and other news outlets — that people have brushed their teeth, yawned and fell in love with eating fish.

Sure, social media is all about disruption and dragging the old world kicking and screaming into the new. But it’s difficult to stomach when a professional organization like Hubspot participates in the watering-down of a concept that should be reserved for such immediacy and importance.

After all, look at the calendar. What day is it?

Imagine if our precious social networks had existed 11 years ago today. And amid the news that was truly breaking, the news that truly deserved our attention, we were faced with: ZOMG, somebody at Twitter farted!

I’m not even the only one questioning the decay of breaking news as a foundation of journalism. The new social network, Branch, has a thread on the same topic.

Craig Kanalley, the fellow who started the aforementioned Tumblr account, weighs in:

I think the term’s become so ubiquitous that it’s lost meaning. Now it seems to signify anything “important” or “worth knowing about,” I suppose, whereas at one time it may have meant “this just happened.”

And, God bless their souls, a news media outlet from Great Falls, MT, adds:

We try to use the phrase very sparingly – lives in danger (wildfires, etc); major collisions and traffic incidents that affect lots of people or a large community. Very, very rarely use it for anything political/legislative.

KRTV gets it. We seem to too easily forget that words have meaning and power and profundity.

When I see “breaking news,” I expect to hear about tragedies, great victories or important matters that are going to change the world.

Not how to use a new tool on a social media site.

So, Hubspot, please, in the future, take care to reserve “breaking news” for only the most important events in the world of social media.

To me, that will probably register somewhere around “FACEBOOK IS DEAD.”

And won’t that be good news?

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