CNN Rethinks Its Chyron Crutch: How ‘Breaking News’ Broke Down

·2-min read

CNN is breaking up with an old habit that has defined cable news for decades.

Erin Burnett, Jim Sciutto and Don Lemon are still talking about the latest headlines on CNN, but their new boss thinks they can do so without the visual aid of a longtime TV news crutch: a graphics block on-screen that tells viewers they are hearing about “Breaking News.”

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The words appear frequently during all kinds of news broadcasts, whether they be of the cable, evening or morning variety — and even when the news is not breaking at all. Chris Licht, installed by Warner Bros. Discovery as CNN’s new chairman and CEO, thinks the chyron needs a rest.

“It has become such a fixture on every channel and network that its impact has become lost on the audience,” he told CNN staffers in a memo last week. “This is a great starting point to try and make ‘Breaking News’ mean something BIG is happening!” Licht added.

The move puts a greater focus on the TV-news screen — or what  can be seen on it. In decades past, Walter Cronkite’s dispatches were enough to keep viewers paying attention, but the advent of 24/7 cable news networks changed the equation. Now audiences can focus on bottom-of-the-screen zippers and corner-screen pop-ups that preview other shows or segments, even if the anchor is yelling about war or a natural disaster.

In 2018, MSNBC eliminated the scrolling news ticker from the bottom of its screen, relying instead on various motionless chyron headlines. Executives at the time felt too many on-screen graphics distracted from actual journalism. In 2020, however, the ticker returned — briefly. These days, neither MSNBC nor Fox News Channel employs a scrolling ticker in daytime news programming.

“I think news executives used the ‘breaking news’ banner a lot because they think the more dramatic presentation will get more viewers to watch,” says Mark Feldstein, Richard Eaton chair of broadcast journalism at the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism. “But viewers quickly pick up on such hype and learn to tune it out.”

He adds: “When everything is breaking news, nothing is breaking news.”

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