How Fresh Is Your Cable News? Check the Label

From "Alert" to "Breaking News," breathless banners have become the norm on cable TV. (Image From Fox News Via Associated Press)
By Paul Farhi
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 25, 2007

This just in! There's no more news on TV, at least not on the cable news networks. Plain old news apparently just isn't good enough anymore, so TV news stories have been getting new and improved names.

President Bush's latest news conference? CNN labels it a "Developing Story." A car bombing in Baghdad? The banner on MSNBC reads, "Breaking News." A blown transformer in New York City? Fox News Channel is on it, with a graphic that announces, "Very Latest."

Sometimes a story is a "News Alert." Sometimes it's a "Bulletin." And sometimes the banner reads, "New Developments" (although if there are new developments in a "Developing Story," shouldn't it really say "Developing Developing Story"?).

The dizzying world of news labels raises many questions. Is it possible for a "Developing Story" to become "Developed," like a Polaroid picture or a post-adolescent woman? Does "Breaking News" ever become "Broken" (and if so, can it be "fixed")?

And can a "Developing Story" ever morph into a "Breaking Story" and vice versa? Or are they like oil and water, matter and antimatter, Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger?

Perhaps the biggest question is why the news needs such quickened-breath labels at all. Isn't all news just, you know, new information? Jeremy Gaines, a spokesman for MSNBC, replies that the labels "telegraph the story in a visual way" for channel-surfing viewers.

Ah. Kind of makes sense. With all the talk shows and shouting heads on TV, with all the opinion-mongering and vicious partisanship, a banner on the screen reading "News Alert" reminds viewers that the news channels still sometimes get around to . . . covering the news.

And that's the Very Latest.

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