Breaking news, interchangeably termed latebreaking news and also known as a special report or news bulletin, is a current issue that broadcasters feel warrants the interruption of scheduled programming and/or current news in order to report its details. Its use is also assigned to the most significant story of the moment or a story that is being covered live. It could be a story that is simply of wide interest to viewers and has little impact otherwise. Many times, breaking news is used after the news organization has already reported on the story. When a story has not been reported on previously, the graphic and phrase "Just In" is sometimes used instead.
The format of a special report or breaking news event on television commonly consists of the current non-news programming suddenly switching to a reverse countdown from 5 or 10 seconds to allow any affiliated stations to switch to the network news feed (television stations typically do not provide these countdowns for local coverage, normally leading with a graphic and/or voiceover announcing the cut-in). There is then an opening graphic, featuring music (such as NBC's "The Pulse of Events", composed by John Williams) which adds an emphasis on the importance of the event. This is usually followed with the introduction of a news anchor, who welcomes the viewer to the broadcast and introduces the story at hand. Lower thirds and other graphics may also be altered to convey a sense of urgency. Once the story is introduced, the network or local station may, if possible, choose to continue to show a live shot of the anchor or may cut away to video or images of the story that is being followed during the broadcast. Additionally, the coverage may be passed to a reporter at the location of the breaking event, possibly sharing more information about the story as it breaks. Depending upon the story being followed, the report may last only a few minutes, or continue for multiple hours – or with the most significant events, days – at a time (events in which the latter instances has occurred include the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and the September 11 attacks). If coverage continues for an extended amount of time, the network may integrate analysis about the story through analysts in-studio, via phone, satellite, broadband (B-GAN) or through other means of communication. Depending on the severity of the event, regular commercial advertising may be completely suspended for sustained coverage, and network affiliates will be required to insert their station identification in at the top of the hour overlaid during the report rather than through the usual means of a station imaging promo or program reminder. When the coverage comes to a close, the network or station may either resume programming that was occurring prior to the event or begin new programming, depending upon the amount of time spent on the coverage. The anchor will usually remind viewers to check the network's website (or that of the station, if coverage is provided locally), or watch any cable news channels that may be co-owned with the network for more information. If the story breaks during daytime programming, the anchor will usually remind viewers that there will be or might be more details on their local news that day and a full wrap-up on the network's evening news program. Usually regular daytime programming is re-joined in progress and segments may be missed. If the event occurs during prime time, the anchor will usually remind viewers that there will be more details on their late local newscast and on the network's overnight news program (if applicable) the next morning. Programming at this time is either joined in progress or started back up at the point of the interruption, depending on whether the program is new to air, highly rated or has time left in its time slot to finish airing. In either of the above instances, network (and in some cases, for local stations, syndicated) programs that have segments not aired or are pre-empted in their entirety by breaking news reports – particularly those that extend to or longer than 20 or 45 minutes, depending on the length of the previously scheduled program – may have to be rescheduled to air at a later time.
On radio, the process of a breaking news story is somewhat the same, though some different considerations are made for the medium. For instance, a breaking news theme is required by default to have an urgent tenor and be used only for the purpose of true breaking news or bulletins. This is obvious on the local all-news radio stations owned by CBS Radio, which very rarely use a breaking news theme for all but the most urgent and dire of breaking news, and is purposefully structured to give a sense of attention for the listener, almost sounding like an alarm. For local events, continuous coverage may be imposed, or else the station may wait until they have a reporter at the scene and will promise more details of the event as they become available. National news that is broadcast over a radio network requires constant monitoring by station employees to allow the network coverage to air, although many stations will take the 'urgent' signal sent by the network and break into programming immediately. Again, continuous coverage from a national radio network depends on the severity of the event, and often the network may just pass down the coverage by their local affiliate with spare commentary by the network's anchors. Other considerations are made also; FM music stations rarely relay breaking news unless it is an event of grave national concern, though local weather warnings are relayed when in effect (either in the form of updates provided by an on-staff anchor or disc jockey, an emergency alert system or through an audio simulcast of a television station which maintains a contractual partnership with a radio outlet). Less urgent events allow a network to feed updates to stations at 20, 30 and 50 minutes after the hour to give a summary of events. Stations are also careful about what stories are relayed during play-by-play broadcasts of professional and college sports, as those are the programs most listened to on radio, so breaking news coverage is limited to only commercial breaks.