Are We ‘Breaking’ News or ‘Faking’ News? You Decide.

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(Newspaper-less experiment, week 8)

Is this, to your left, really ‘breaking’ news? REALLY?!?

Let me give you the back story, and then you can decide.

In the last 24 hours, Twitter has changed it’s ‘Update’ button on to read ‘Tweet’ (see left).

Brian Solis, who I have a great deal of respect for, stopped me in my tracks with this snappy ‘Tweetline’ a few hours ago:

“Breaking News: Twitter Changes Updates to Tweets

(Brian, also qualified this in the link / subsequent post, shedding some much needed perspective on the ‘scale’ of this news, but nevertheless…)

But, Brian touched on a point in his post which has been bothering me for months; in the world of Social Media this IS considered significant ‘news.’

From his post: “In the grand scheme of things, this news seems a bit insignificant in light of other current events However, it is significant in the world of Social Media. “

A ‘new’ news criteria?

Does this ‘update’ really pass the “so what?” test? Is it news?

Prominence, topicality and change. Yes.

Proximity and action. Maybe.

Conflict, rarity, consequence and personality. Hmmm, no.

For me, this barely passes as news (in the traditional sense), let alone BREAKING NEWS, so should we be classifying it in that way?

Quantity engulfing quality?

Imagine being an alien and arriving on planet Earth and you asked someone:

“So, what’s making news today?”

And you replied:

“Oh, the big story of the day revolves around some letters on a web page being replaced by some others, and it’s just thrown us all into disarray…we now ‘Tweet’ instead of ‘Update.’ True story.”

If I was that alien, I’d hop back on my spaceship and never come back…ever!

My big fear when I embarked on my newspaper-less experiment for 2010 was that quality would be replaced with quantity.

I think if I was in a court of law right now, I’d quite happily refer to this example and say:

“The defence rests your honour.”

What would your decision be?

Sentenced to Tweet-jail for the remainder of your natural life for blatant and repeated use of illegitimate ‘breaking’ news ‘Tweetlines’?

Or, does this now qualify as big news?

Do we need a new term?

It’s YOUR community…you decide!


Brian Solis: If you do happen to read this, I hope no offence has been taken, and as you rightly clarified in your post there is an argument for this being ‘big’ news for people interested in Social Media…of which I am one of those people, hence asking this question 🙂


  • Reply March 10, 2010

    Simon Apps

    Interesting post Adam. It’s all a matter of the environment in which you spend your life. If you send much of it on Twitter, then yes this is breaking news and highly relevant to the audience. But to see it appear in a national newspaper as news, I agree, would be giving it a sense of importance it doesn’t deserve.

  • Reply March 10, 2010

    Adam Vincenzini

    Thanks. And that’s where I’m conflicted – is ‘news’ a universal term that can / should be used ‘all the time’? – was this more of an update?
    It may not matter in the grand scheme of things all that much, but if I was that alien I’d be a little concerned 😉

  • Reply March 10, 2010

    Emily Cagle

    I think it’s a cultural thing.

    For some, the use of the term ‘BREAKING NEWS’ is symptomatic of ‘town crier syndrome’, the need to shout news first and loudest. Then the term gets used a lot, and people stop focussing on whether the news is valuable, and only that they break it. “The news may be small, but I got to it first, and that’s what counts.”

    I think it relates back to the newspaper clamour for the scoop – much tougher these days for print as stories have often broken online long before the printers roll. Since many bloggers assume the role of citizen journalist, the blogging world has also aquired the culture of the scoop.

    Scoops have been delvalued in print media too – just look at the word EXCLUSIVE. In the majority of cases, that word has become an attention grabber much more than anything really valuable. Often exclusives aren’t exclusives at all.

    So, is it ok to use ‘BREAKING NEWS’ about something pretty small? Well it is new, it has just broken, the capitals make sure you notice it. So in that respect, I’m ok with it – it qualifies in the literal sense. Then again, if everyone starts tagging tweets with ‘BREAKING NEWS’ all the time (which seems quite possible, since it’s becoming a more common sight all the time) it will lose its pull, lose value, no longer act as an effective flag that something new AND important has happened.

    So with all that in mind, I think you’re right. The term should be used very sparingly by those with influence, so that we can preserve its meaning – at least until the spammers swallow it up.

  • Reply March 10, 2010

    Andrew Drinkwater

    Seems to me this crystalises some of the real issues around some social media. True it’s a rich source of information and insight, but there’s an awful lot of navel gazing going on. Surely Twitter and the like are just the tools for sharing content. What buttons we press, or what those buttons say is pretty irrelevant. Would a newspaper announce to its readers that it was now designing and producing its pages using InDesign rather than QuarkXpress? I doubt it.

  • You’re about to trigger me into a soapbox ballyhoo about the bad things that happen when we dilute and misuse phrases. Sure, sure — one could travel down a path to argue that “Breaking News” is contextual to the reader. Without a doubt, the definition of “news” is. But you’ve hit upon the whole notion of common-use and convention. Breaking News has been and still is used as a convention to mean “bloody hell, STOP what you’re looking at because something BIG has just happened.” The world of vocabulary is a vast, vast place — and I’d just as soon see us coin a fresh phrase. Let’s leave Breaking News as it is. There. Ballyhoo over. Sorry for the bubbles. (well done, Adam)

  • Reply March 10, 2010


    Love the comments, great article. Think some think to much… It ‘affects’ millions so yeah worth a mention. But no it’s not ‘Breaking News’.

  • Reply March 10, 2010

    Andrew Drinkwater

    We could of course end this debate with Hearst’s famous quote about news: “News is what someone, somewhere doesn’t want you to print. All the rest is advertising.”

  • Reply March 11, 2010

    Elissa Freeman

    Great post – and love Andrew Drinkwater’s Hearst quote!
    I’m old school – so ‘breaking news’ should be relevant to a large demographic – not a ‘niche’ audience.
    However, as long as we have the TMZ’s of the world, the definition of “breaking news” will become less robust and sink more into the trivial. Eg just wait until Brad Pitt shaves his beard – the reverberations from his razor will be heard around the globe…as “breaking news!”

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