Can you break down breaking news events into stages? While on a recent story for a network news client, I started to think about past stories I’ve covered and how many share similarities with present day stories, regardless of story topic or circumstance. One could argue there are distinct stages of a breaking news event, not just for the media, but for those in the community directly involved in the story.
So, here it is, the four stages of most (not all) breaking news stories:
The breaking news story is born. Maybe the story is sensational, tragic, or just interesting. Whatever the reason the news media is interested and the race is on to be first with video, interviews, and information. Along with the traditional live shots for news shows, crews are expected to use social media to update followers as new information becomes available.
For those involved in any breaking news story, the experience is usually shocking and unfamiliar. Most do not have experience handling media inquiries while simultaneously dealing with grief. I have seen people react to news coverage in a variety of ways including friendly and open, hostile and closed, and for most, somewhere in-between.
Stage Two-Story Saturation
Developing breaking news stories have a life of their own and when they develop, the media becomes fully engaged. That means multiple crews are assigned to cover multiple story angles. What began with just a couple of TV news outlets and the newspaper now includes all the TV stations, radio, community newspapers and online bloggers and websites. For the biggest stories, the networks will also arrive with their own crews.
Story saturation means 24/7 media inquiries to family, friends, co-workers, and anyone else connected to a breaking news story. The news media will use social media to find people connected to a news story and they will report what people have posted on-line in relationship to that story. Once the media has names, they can track down addresses and any criminal histories of those connected to the story.
Stage Three-Story Burn Out
Once multiple crews have been assigned, there is an investment made by the station and management expects a return on their investment. That means crews feel pressure to deliver new information or exclusive interviews as a means of advancing the story. Over time, it becomes more and more difficult to deliver new information or new content and news organizations must decide whether to continue their investment or pull back, of course, with the risk they could miss out.
As news crews push for new content or exclusive interviews, those connected to the story will feel the pressure too. News makers often become frustrated and angry and will begin to push back and close doors. Usually there is at least one news member who will cross an ethical boundary, and many will choose to ignore or deny all future media related inquiries.
Stage Four-Story Conclusion/Flip?
Not all, but most breaking news stories will conclude when a story reaches its bookend moment. That could mean a missing person is found, a murder suspect is arrested, or maybe just all possible story angles have been covered again and again and there is nothing left to report. This doesn’t mean there won’t be follow-up stories. Many big stories go on for years, through the courts and trial, etc. It just means the “breaking” aspect of the story is over and less resources are needed.
For those connected to the story, this usually means the phone calls and emails and door knocks subside. The news media is very schizophrenic and yesterdays big story may not mean much today. This doesn’t mean there won’t continue to be news coverage of the story. It just means it won’t be as intense or sustained.
What is the story flip? Occasionally, a breaking news story will flip and become something different from where it began. Maybe a family member the news media had interviewed many times is arrested as the primary suspect in the crime at hand. Maybe police discover new evidence that changes the story narrative. Either way, flips can bring a dying news story back to life or crank up the heat of what has already been a hot breaking news story.