Have the networks broken the term ‘breaking news’ as CNN exec looks to scale back its use?

Broadcast networks, meanwhile, typically only broadcast a handful of hours of network-produced news every day, so if a big story broke outside of these times, it needed to be big enough to justify breaking into whatever (often popular entertainment) programming was airing at the time.

While the exact definition of what constitutes “breaking news” could be debated for hours, U.S. broadcast networks have one major way of conveying major stories of national significance: The special report.

“Taking network air” as it is sometimes known, tended to be reserved for stories that arguably scored a higher level of importance than CNN’s breaking news label triggered. 

The broadcast networks typically offer affiliates and owned stations an advisory on the “level” of a special report — typically a Level 1 being a story of high importance that almost every station will cut away to it. This can, incidentally, include pre-scheduled events such as the State of the Union, that aren’t technically “breaking” since they were known in advance, though the term “special report,” like “breaking news,” has become blurred and may be breaching the point of being overused. 

Other special reports can be designated at other levels, typically with a higher number equating to fewer affiliates taking the network report, especially if they are in the middle of lucrative entertainment programming or the topic of the report is not as relevant to its viewers. Reports of these levels can include more routine “breaking” news such as press conferences, presidential appearances or trial verdicts that may not have as wide of an interest level. 

Many stations use software in their master control that monitors the network feeds for special digital markers embedded in the special report countdown leader and slate and can switch over automatically or alert an operator who can make the switch manually depending on various factors, including what level the report is designated as. 

These days, it could be argued that special reports are becoming more common than they once were, especially if a viewer happens to live in a major city where the local affiliate is owned by the network; network owned stations are often more likely to switch over to all special reports, no matter what level.

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