There were days when TV channels had the 'news hour' set aside every morning and evening, to update us with what was going on in the world around us. The local channels had a half-hour local news with headlines from the rest of the world. At a specified time, the news would go on for an hour, with more detailed national and/or world news. News-Readers (as they were called back then) dressed in a saree or suit and started off with a 'Namaskar'. The actual news session was preceeded by a few seconds of 'start-up' mostly consisting of music in the background, while the ying-yang-like symbol of 'The News' bounced and somersaulted across the screen.
Back in those days, when one heard "Breaking News", it usually meant that there was something so urgent and important that it had to be announced right away. It could not wait for the designated 'news hour'. It was news that would break through the ceiling, come crashing down over every other news or program on television. It had to be BIG and would most likely be bad too.
When the 9/11 happened, I remember being glued to the TV all day, watching the BREAKING NEWS. When my uncle called me from a village in Kerala, where there was no TV, I remember telling him there was BREAKING NEWS! We had been on phone for an hour, while I gave him a running commentary from the scenes that were continuously appearing on TV, almost ad-lib-ing the news reader.
Cut to present. We have 24-hr news channels. There's one in every local language and atleast 3 English news channels. No surprise, therefore, that there is cut-throat competition. How different can they get? The big news are big news and they can only relay what is happening in the real world. Yet, if one has to be ahead in the competition, something different needs to be done.
So, they sensationalize news - big and urgent ones, small and unimportant ones, sometimes even non-descript ones. As a result, every news has become "Breaking News". Switch on the TV at any time of the day and these channels have news scrolling at the bottom, flashing at the bottom, journalists at the scene & inside the studio speaking fast with excitement in their voice. When there isn't enough news to carry on for the entire day, they have repeats. If you missed a piece of news in the last hour, do not worry. Keep watching, it'll show up again in the next few minutes.
As if that weren't enough, in a desperate bid to be different, they even call the 'Breaking News' by different names. Flash News, Big News, Just In, What Is In The News, etc.
Unfortunately, when there is a freak event, they have nothing else to call it. That goes under the same name - depending on the channel, it could be one or more of the above. There is nothing to differentiate the actual 'Big News' from the trivia like Kathryn Bigelow winning 6 Oscars against her ex-husband James Cameron who won only 3. The 'Just In' news need not necessarily be "just in" - this afternoon, the same news-line scrolled for about 30 minutes and was called 'Just In'.
As fillers, they also have panels of famous people discussing the issue in question, most of the time drawing no conclusions in the end. No surprise there. It is merely a bunch of people voicing their opinion. The law-makers and keepers are busy either fighting fires or hiding. The only people watching are more of the ones who can do nothing except to listen to others and speculate within their own limitations.
One particular news channel (and journalist) I used to admire greatly has now turned into more of a commercial venture. Watching this news channel is like watching a movie channel. From times when I believed everything that was on the news, I've come to realize that I cannot watch the news without taking in the updates with a pinch of salt (actually, a handful of salt).