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CNN boss curbs use of 'Breaking News': A progressive move to counter clickbait?

CNN boss curbs use of 'Breaking News': A progressive move to counter clickbait?

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CNN has made a name for itself as a 24-hour news platform that often carries breaking news. However, it has now been told by its new boss to cool it with the "Breaking News" banners plastered across its platforms. The platform has in recent times used the banner on air to reflect trending conversations, even if the news was broken hours prior.

Chris Licht, who was recently named chairman and CEO of CNN, said that the news outlet has been relying on the “breaking news” graphics on air too often. In a memo sent out to staff, Licht said that there were complaints of overuse of the “Breaking News” banner both internally and externally.

According to a report on Variety, in the memo, Licht said: “It has become such a fixture on every channel and network that its impact has become lost on the audience.” This has rendered the phrase useless. Licht added that a great starting point to try would be to “make ‘Breaking News’ mean something BIG is happening!”

CNBC, which also obtained the memo, said the tone seconded Warner Bros. Discovery chief executive David Zaslav and board member John Malone, who both publicly said CNN needs to go back to its root of journalism over sensationalism. Licht, in his memo, added: “We are truth-tellers, focused on informing, not alarming our viewers. You’ve already seen far less of the ‘Breaking News’ banner across our programming. The tenor of our voice holistically has to reflect that.”

“Breaking news must be one of the abused phrases in TV news,” veteran journalist in the Singapore media scene PN Balji told MARKETING-INTERACTIVE. He added that news channels, and CNN “stands accused as one of the biggest culprits”, because of the intense competition for eyeballs.  He added that trust can be won back by the media if the term is used “very sparingly” and “judiciously”.

According to Edelman’s Trust Barometer of 2022, the “world ensnared in a vicious cycle of distrust, fueled by a growing lack of faith in media and government”. Through disinformation and division, these two institutions are feeding the cycle and exploiting it for commercial and political gain.

In fact, 67% of respondents were convinced that journalists and reporters are intentionally trying to mislead people by saying things they know are false or gross exaggerations. This was an 8% increase from the previous year. Meanwhile, compared to 2021, trust in traditional media dipped 5% to 57% this year and was the least trusting source for respondents in Russia (35%), Japan (39%), as well as South Korea and the US (43%).

“Breaking news is no longer actually ‘breaking’ news, is it? While it doesn’t have to be a scoop or an exclusive to be breaking news, it has come to stand for top news at the time,” Shouvik Prasanna Mukherjee, chief creative officer, Asia Pacific at Golin said. When wire agencies send alerts and snaps, it indicates the news is just breaking. However on news channels sometimes even news older than the 24-hour news cycle gets the tag, which defeats the purpose, Mukherjee explained.

This misappropriation and overuse of the term across channels have desensitised the audience. With the scaling back of the use of the term or restricting it to news that is actually breaking, news outlets such as CNN may actually restore viewers’ faith.

Calling the move a “progressive step in acknowledging the issue” and trying to make amends, Mukherjee said: “I hope this inspires other [news outlets] and leads to some fresh thinking in news packaging and delivery, and not turn into just a replacement of the term with another coinage.”

Also lauding the move by CNN is Charu Srivastava, deputy managing director of Redhill, who said that the use of the term “Breaking News” is slowly losing its impact, and consumers are becoming desensitised to the term given the frequency of its use by news outlets.

“Breaking news comes with a time frame in mind. News outlets cannot be confusing trending conversations with breaking news,” she said, further clarifying that the time frame for news to be breaking is also dependent on the incident.  Moreover, the repeated use of the term also leads to sensationalism and erosion of trust in the media brands.

However, Srivastava also was of the view that content being shared or which might be trending on social media is also putting traditional media brands under pressure to publish news fast.

“What is important to remember is that consumers trust certain media brands more than others, or more than the chatter on social, because of the verification of the news and the credibility of the news outlet. So while there is a time pressure to be early in cracking the news, it shouldn’t overtake the due diligence needed to publish authentic news.”

Also weighing in on the conversation was Desmond Ku, founder and director of The Bridge Agency, who said: “ I think having guidelines or regulations to define breaking news is necessary. As a news organisation especially a TV news station, it should add the breaking news tag only when it wants to catch audiences’ attention to that news. Overusing the tag might undermine the credibility of the organisation.”

Meanwhile, Jeffery Hau, director of Prizm Group Hong Kong, said: "I’m pretty sure CNN has gathered a lot of insights and data when they decide what kind of content or catchphrase they use in order to attract eyeballs. If we take this to the advertising world I guess we are facing a similar issue as well, especially with the platforms’ programmatic algorithm."

He said that for banner ads to stand out in the vast competition, there are often golden rules or keywords that drive better click through rates. "I think the dilemma here is to judge whether constantly abusing these catchphrases will eventually hurt the brand’s reputation and credibility. That is due for further investigation," he said.

Photo courtesy: 123RF

Related articles:
CNN+ streaming pulls the plug: Do news brands have space to play in OTT?
CNN Digital names new APAC director based out of HK
CNN International makes four appointments to the newsroom

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