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About Says Simon

Steve Simon is vice president of Van Eperen & Company, a Rockville-based strategic communications and public relations firm. A longtime Montgomery County political observer, he has been in the media and public relations field locally for nearly 30 years. In addition to serving as an independent public relations consultant, he... Read more

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BREAKING NEWS! When Is It So?

BREAKING NEWS! There is absolutely NO “breaking news” in this article.

As someone who has spent my whole life around the news and media business – dating back to my first editor’s job on the junior high school newspaper staff – I have always loved the notion of “breaking news.”

I was that 12-year-old geek who rushed home from school to grab a snack and huddle around the TV each afternoon to watch… the Watergate hearings.

My problem today is that in a world in which news is “breaking” every minute of every day – via Twitter, text, email, and on scores of 24-hour broadcast news outlets – how much of it is really “news?” And how often is it actually of a “breaking” nature?” I think you know the answer.

Maybe this particularly frustrates me because, as a hazard of my profession, I subscribe to way too many email dispatches and Twitter feeds. Or maybe it’s because the “24-7-365” news media business really has lost its way on this subject.

When we had a relatively benign one-inch snowfall recently, I received dozens of “breaking news” alerts from TV stations and online media about the pending “winter storm” and school systems shutting down.

When new Secretary of State John Kerry was confirmed this week by the Senate, I got a handful more of “Breaking News” alerts. In this case, I can see where this could be called breaking news, but is it necessary to identify all news each day as breaking?

Last fall, when I was at the ballpark enjoying the season-ending Washington Nationals game and the Presidents’ Race character “Teddy (Roosevelt)” broke through for his first-ever victory, I was literally inundated with “Breaking News” e-mail alerts from the Washington news media?

As a Nats fan and especially as a PR guy who appreciated the success of the Nats campaign, I loved the sideshow storyline around Teddy’s big win (which, of course, was brought to you – as they say in the ad business – “by the good folks at GEICO!”). But sending me a breaking news alert? Really?

To my friends in the media: Can you say… “Boy Who Cried Wolf” much?

I understand the importance of being first in the news business and in scooping the competition. But that’s not what we are talking about here.

In fairness, there is an actual definition for “breaking news” that, technically, gives my friends in the media some cover – at least in regard to their use of the word “breaking.”  Webster’s identifies it as: “News that is happening and being reported or revealed at this moment.” But the optimum word there is news, right? Shouldn’t we start with whether something is even news?

On Breaking Local News…

And now that even my good friends here at MyMCMedia are now in the “breaking news” business, with tweets, Facebook posts and rapid website updates, it may be worth taking a look at this issue from the standpoint of our local news. (Incidentally, great job MyMCMedia team for keeping us all abreast of this week’s rising waters, due to heavy rains!)

Recently, when my former boss, Doug Duncan, made news by holding a closed-door breakfast briefing for a small group of supporters to announce he is planning a return run for county executive, the story was “broken” by Montgomery Village Patch editor Sebastian Montes, via the hyper-local, online Patch sites in Montgomery County. And actually, in all fairness, the story of the breakfast happening itself was broken weeks before that by Maryland political analyst Josh Kurtz, in his column on the Center Maryland site.

After Patch and Kurtz got their scoops, the story was followed shortly thereafter by all of the area newspapers, and local TV and radio stations. Most were quick to “tweet” or email the news out as “Breaking News.” Even after being beaten on the first reporting of the news, The Washington Post actually ran the story of Duncan’s announcement in its print edition the next day on A1.

By the way, at least three County Council members have now announced or indicated their intentions to run for county executive – and none have been reported in full-length stories in the print edition of The Post. Even though they may not have the inherent star power of a Doug Duncan or current Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett, as candidates, is their announced entry into the race any less “newsy?”

Maybe… maybe not… but isn’t it a fair question? Especially in an environment where “Teddy’s big win” results in a Breaking News alert that instantly buzzes cell phones all around the metro area?

 

 

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Steve Simon

About Steve Simon

Steve Simon is vice president of Van Eperen & Company, a Rockville-based strategic communications and public relations firm. A longtime Montgomery County political observer, he has been in the media and public relations field locally for nearly 30 years. In addition to serving as an independent public relations consultant, he has held previous posts as the public information director for Montgomery County Public Schools, as director of communications for Montgomery College, and as a public information officer for Montgomery County, under three different county executive’s administrations. Earlier in his career, he was managing editor of The Chronicle Express newspapers, a former community newspaper chain in Montgomery County. He is the former host of several Montgomery County cable television shows, including Capital View Annapolis for County Cable Montgomery and Campus Conversations for Montgomery College Television.

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