This article originally appeared on VICE Sports UK.
When it comes to rolling news in football, we think it's fair to say that the internet is reaching saturation point. While the sport might have a gargantuan global reach, there's only so many news items that the human race can collectively comprehend at any one time. Driven by the Premier League machine and its insatiable appetite for drama, outlets are now engaged in a vicious fight for their audience's attention, grappling to be first to stories, shout loudest once they have them, and generally make everything they do as eye-catching as possible regardless of substance. Unfortunately, in this ferocious melee, the football press have sabotaged one of their most effective strategies for rousing people's interest. In the savage bunfight over online traffic, the meaning of breaking news has been lost.
Take one glance at the Sky Sports News Twitter feed, and the extent of the problem becomes apparent. At the time of writing, seven of the last 10 tweets they have posted contain 'BREAKING' in some form or other. While this has become something of a running joke amongst their followers, Sky are not the only outlet who push breaking news to its conceptual limits, nor are they alone responsible for its increasing meaninglessness. From mainstream accounts to transfer rumour portals and even pedlars of inane football memes, the term 'BREAKING' is being used with stories ranging from what Wayne Rooney had for breakfast to Dele Alli's favourite Power Ranger, what time Robert Snodgrass went to bed last night to the colour of Mesut Ozil's socks.
BREAKING: Man Utd has made a MEGA £70 million bid for Portuguese STAR. What a signing this will be https://t.co/MUs2mIJQks pic.twitter.com/S9Oc76aARB
— Troll Football (@TrollFootball) January 20, 2017
The most obvious issue with this is that, first and foremost, it pisses people off. Seeing the word 'BREAKING' over and over again on social media is repetitive, confusing and inherently annoying, especially when it is being misused much of the time. To say that something is 'BREAKING', with caps on for extra emphasis, is to suggest that it is happening in urgent and immediate fashion. It is also to suggest that the thing being reported is exciting to some degree, exclusive even, not an event which is entirely arbitrary or which people can see with their own two eyes.
So, more often than is tolerable, breaking news in football turns out to be nothing of the sort. When, for instance, an outlet reports that a player is likely to stay at their current club, this is not so much breaking news as an uninterrupted continuation of the status quo. There is nothing urgent or immediate in the process of a footballer not sealing a transfer elsewhere, in the same way that there is nothing exciting about a footballer going about their daily routine. The reality of a rumoured transfer not taking place is that, essentially, the player in question has got out of bed, eaten his Weetabix, got in his Lamborghini and gone to training, much like he does every morning, and will continue to do for the foreseeable future. This is definitively not breaking news, even if any consequent developments might still be considered worthy of note.
Similarly, developments are probably unworthy of 'BREAKING' status if they are still under consideration. News of a transfer request, say, can be broken once the details have been finalised, but until that point it is a potential event and potential events are not breaking news. Were we to take the sum total of career decisions ever considered by a footballer and break each of them with the same urgency as a celebrity death or natural disaster, we would be swamped by the sheer weight of the ensuing content, drowned in a deluge of uncertain likelihoods. In a paradoxical sense, transfer requests that are still being considered are in a dual state of happening and not happening, and hence in the football equivalent of Schrodinger's cat they represent news that is not in fact breaking, but instead fundamentally unresolved.
The result of misappropriating the term 'BREAKING' is that it no longer has the significance it used to. Throw widespread overuse into the mix, and breaking things to the public just doesn't have the same cultural cachet that it once did. Make no mistake, though this originates with football, the end result will be that breaking news is permanently ruined for everyone. Slapping "BREAKING" on the front of even the most banal of social media posts has devalued the excitement factor to the point of near oblivion, and once that enthusiasm is gone, it will be practically impossible to get back.
Perhaps the ultimate sign that breaking news is dying is that, when a football account tweets 'BREAKING' these days, people often just take the piss. It is impossible to maintain the tension of breaking news every hour of every day, in much the same way that King Lear would probably lose its dramatic resonance if it was reduced to a bloke getting his eyes stabbed out for a full two and a half hours. Breaking news to the public is a form of theatre, and it takes a decent grasp of stagecraft to make it work. As things stand, the epic melodrama that football reporting thrives upon has depreciated to the level of extremely shoddy pantomime, with the term "BREAKING" playing the role of a campy bit-part whose job it is to deliver the tawdriest lines.