The Sham of Breaking News

On Tuesday,  WHAS-TV teased its late news viewers with an upcoming “Breaking News” story. Once on the air, anchor Doug Proffitt quickly cut to reporter Rebecca Rector on “the scene” where breaking news was happening — right now. Viewers were assured that WHAS-TV had this “breaking story” that was crucial for viewers to know.

Here’s the story, which wasn’t mentioned in any other newscast or in the following day’s paper.  There was a fire at a business (closed at the time) where peanut butter is made. No one was in the building when the fire started, and no one was injured. Damage to the building was limited to a room where peanuts roasted.  Rector interviewed a firefighter at the scene, who calmly told her the fire was under control. A machine was being used to blow smoke out.  No word on the condition of the peanuts.

This hardly qualifies as the lead story on a newscast, much less of the “breaking news” hype. Is there some pressure on the station management level to falsely alarm folks with the “breaking news” banner? Putting reporters on the street to cover non-stories like this — is that what WHAS thinks people want? What happens when something significant occurs — is there another level — “really important breaking news”?

Give credit to the other local stations for not falling completely into this trap, at least on this night. Chasing fire alarms for something to put on the air live is just one step above lawyers chasing ambulances for clients. But at least those guys don’t  put their work out there for all to see.

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