Sunday, January 22, 2012

The definition of "breaking news"

Sunday, we all woke up to the sad news of the passing of a sports legend in former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno. It was a shock but unfortunately was not totally unexpected after Saturday's reports of Paterno being in serious condition and on a ventilator.

To mark Paterno's passing, ESPN pre-empted its Australian Open coverage to present reaction from around the sports world in a "SportsCenter" special - as it should with a watershed moment such as this, by the way.

I couldn't help but think, though, of seeing the graphic "BREAKING NEWS: Joe Paterno dies at 85". That marked the second time this week I've seen a breaking news graphic on ESPN.

This one was thoroughly deserved of course. The other instance was far from it.

Previously in this space, Sports Editor Mark Podolski talked very accurately about the pratfalls in the race to be first with the Paterno story Saturday night, as multiple reports prematurely said he had already passed away.

Allow me to add one more: The very definition of breaking news.

The other instance of breaking news I saw this week on ESPN - and honestly, it pains me to even bring it up because it so far pales in comparison to the finality of a sports legend passing away - was when it was revealed LeBron James would play against the Lakers after being sent home from morning shootaround with a flu bug.

It's not even so much that James is involved - it just so happens he's the example in this case. But let's say Albert Pujols, Aaron Rodgers, Tiger Woods - any other prominent athlete in the world - also had a flu bug, and it was revealed they would play on anyway. I think it's fair to say it would not be met with the fanfare of "breaking news" as it was with James. A "developing story"? Perhaps. Worthy of a crawl item on the ticker? Absolutely. But not breaking news.

There are many, many instances in which ESPN should be very proud of its journalistic integrity and quality, and the depth with which they covered and the perspective they provided on Paterno's passing is one of them.

But if someone in Bristol honestly believes James battling a flu bug, taking some over-the-counter medicine and being able to play the same day qualifies as "breaking news" - particularly compared to Sunday's unfortunate events - they're sadly mistaken.

- Chris Lillstrung


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