If It Ain’t ‘Breaking,’ Don’t Say It Is

WDRB Louisville, Ky., has stopped using “breaking news” to describe reports in its newscasts. It says it’s opted instead for “good journalism and storytelling.” The Block Communications Fox affiliate’s news director, Barry Fulmer, says: “We don’t want a marketing brand like “breaking news,” or anything else, dictate how we cover news.”

Do news viewers think the term “breaking news” has meaning anymore? Or have TV stations, in an attempt to convey urgency about their newscasts and their coverage, abused it and in the process cheapened both?

Search “breaking news promos” on YouTube, and you’ll find there’s no shortage of TV stations trumpeting the phrase. Even national and international news organizations can’t resist.

But search “breaking news is a gimmick,” and the only example that pops up is this one from WDRB, Block Communications’ Fox affiliate in Louisville, Ky. (DMA 48).

The spot makes the point that the term “breaking news” is a lie, an advertising trick, a gimmick, and that what’s labeled as “breaking news” is seldom actually breaking and quite often, isn’t even news. It goes on to declare that WDRB never uses that term, since its coverage is governed by good solid journalism, not deception.

“What we’re doing flies in the face of what everyone else is doing,” says Bill Lamb, WDRB’s general manager. So much so that when the spot aired recently, both CNN and NPR did stories about it as did the local media critic in town.

While the spot may be new, the fact that WDRB banned the term “breaking news” from its lexicon isn’t. “We pledged that five years ago and put it on our website,” says David Jewell, WDRB’s creative services director.


So, why would one local TV news operation turn its back on a term that seems to be embraced by many others?

“We don’t want a marketing brand like ‘breaking news,’ or anything else, dictate how we cover news,” says Barry Fulmer, WDRB’s news director. “Our approach is good journalism and storytelling.”

Journalism. When we was the last time you saw that word used in local TV news marketing? WDRB News has been marketing itself as “Better Journalism” since 2008.

WDRB News: You Deserve Better Journalism

Lamb says there are times when there is a big story that’s happening now, but “it’s just not all news as it occurs.”

“We use the term ‘news alert’,” Fulmer says, “and we use it sparingly.”

Rick Redding, a Louisville media critic for five years, believes that WDRB is on to something. “I think the other stations use that term deceptively, over use it or use it when it’s not breaking news.”

Joe Rovitto, of Clemensen & Rovitto, a TV news consultant that works with more than a dozen TV station clients, but none in Louisville, agrees that WDRB has a “valid point,” but may be taking it too far.

“Sometimes TV stations blow their positioning out of proportion, and breaking news could be one of those,” he says. “But if a news service doesn’t convey that they are delivering the most up-to-the minute, up-to-date news coverage, that news service loses some credibility.”

Rovitto says “there is legitimate breaking news and I wouldn’t go as far as to remove that from my coverage description.”

Has banning the term “breaking news” and branding itself as “better journalism” paid off for WDRB?

Comments left on the station’s Facebook page suggest that that viewers get it.

“I’ve bemoaned the descent of TV news into the quagmire of “pop culture” and puerile gimmickry,” writes one commenter. “This over-use of ‘Breaking News’ is just one of many symptoms. It should be mentioned also that its overuse dilutes its impact and true purpose.”

In terms of daily news coverage, Fulmer says in at least two cases WDRB got exclusive interviews because the competition “made a nuisance of themselves,” while his WDRB crew showed restraint.

“They said we were respectful and so they trusted us,” Fulmer says, “and when you conduct yourself that way, you win in the end.”

“We do 52 1/2 hours of news a week,” adds Lamb, “and all of it is either No. 1 or No. 2.”

Market Share by Paul Greeley is all about marketing and promotion at TV stations and appears every Monday. Read other Market Share columns here. If you have some ideas or stories you want to share, please let me know. You can reach Paul Greeley at [email protected] or at 817-578-6324.

Comments (5)

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Roy Mayhugh says:

September 3, 2013 at 12:37 pm

I admire the move in many ways, but agree with Mr. Rovitto, as well. Breaking news, despite its pitfalls, can be a compelling part of a brand. Note I write “part of the brand.” Breaking news is not itself a brand.

Re: the news director’s comment… “We don’t want a marketing brand like ‘breaking news,’ or anything else, dictate how we cover news,” no brand should “dictate” how you operate. But if your newscast has absolutely no distinction from competitors, how do you expect to be a compelling choice in a crowded market? I hope this station is focusing more now on the quality journalism it asserts to offer, rather than the breaking news it does not. In the long term, it’s best to sell who you are– not who you’re not.

Joel Ordesky says:

September 3, 2013 at 1:42 pm

It seems like the “Breaking News” label is being applied to every other story in the NY market. And most of the stations are embellishing their newscasts with plenty of sound effects. What next? 5.1 Dolby Surround effects? Yuck!

Wagner Pereira says:

September 3, 2013 at 2:55 pm

“1. We will not hype our product” …. interesting as this is EXACTLY what they are doing trying to position themselves with no use of the term “breaking news” and their 10 point “contract” with their viewers, of which they break by doing this. It’s easy to be #1 at 10pm when the other news entities are still airing network programming, however WLKY is still #1 with the positioning they have used for over 10 years “Live, Local and Late Breaking”, which clearly WDRB is using this “hype” to market against. Finally, fwiw, this story clearly is NOT Breaking news as it has been covered extensively for 60 days now. If this is what not using “breaking news” means, count me out.

loretta mahoney says:

September 3, 2013 at 2:55 pm

After retiring from 40+ years in the TV station business 7 years ago, I found out that the viewers don’t care nearly as much as those of us who work(ed) in the business care. Viewers are smarter than we think. Breaking News doesn’t do anything for them! The constant use of the term has made them cynical and they realize it’s a marketing statement, not really what’s happening!

    Adam Causey says:

    September 5, 2013 at 12:31 am

    Sir, your insight is very valuable. Would you care to share which market or station you retired from, and/or how I might get in touch with you? Thanks! [email protected]

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