CNBC's Schacknow: I Want It Now! How We Break News

I Want It Now!
Anyone who’s ever worked in the news business -- be it radio, television, or print -- has it drilled into their heads from day one: get it on (or out) NOW!

If you work for, say, one of the major wire services, it’s simplicity itself: news breaks, you write it up, send it out. Done.

In radio, you might have to interrupt current programming, but all it really requires is someone to get on the air and say it.

In television, we have many ways to deliver breaking news. On the surface, that sounds like a nice advantage, and most of the time, it is. But it also introduces variables that other media don’t need to consider.

One is a handy tool that I often use, but don’t always like using, known around these parts as the “deko alert.” You’ve seen them often: those little chyron bars that say “CNBC Alert” on the left (and sometimes “Breaking News”), with a one or two line blurb about the news.

Here’s the problem: if we’re talking about an alert that’s not accompanied by an anchor ad-lib, they can sometimes be lost amid whatever story is currently on the air. They can also prove to be a detrimental distraction if we’re running a lighter piece, such as the wacky, wonderful material that CNBC’s Jane Wells regularly provides us from Los Angeles, or the offbeat sports stories from our sports business reporter Darren Rovell.

This morning, we got news that mall operator Mills Corporation had agreed to be acquired by Simon Property Group and Farallon Capital Management for $25.25 a share. It’s a story we’d been following, so it made sense to “alert” the conclusion, with plans to cover it more fully in our next “stocks to watch” segment.

Unfortunately, it happened smack in the middle of our coverage of important breaking economic numbers: producer prices and housing starts (which dropped to a 10-year low).

We had to make a judgment call: the numbers were brand new and market-moving -- and we knew that Mills had been in talks and we’d reported on what the price was likely to be. In the end, we put the alert up once the economic coverage had ended.

Don’t start a petition to throw me out of the breaking-news club. We have to think not only about what the news is, but how our viewers are consuming it. I believe we served them in the best way possible in this instance.

But Then Again...
Of course, there are stories you must get on the air right away no matter what. When the headline crossed at 11:30 am that General Motors was reported to be in talks to buy all of Chrysler Group, there was no doubt it had to be on THAT INSTANT! And it was. We drew up dekos while “Morning Call” anchors Michelle Caruso-Cabrera and Liz Claman told viewers what we knew.

Within minutes, we were on the air with a reporter from Automotive News, which broke the story, and with our auto reporter Phil LeBeau. We had stock charts. We had video. We were SO all over the story, and all within minutes, thanks to a great team effort by our producers and assignment editors.

Of course, this report may have been way premature, but our viewers now know that it’s out there, and whether they should make investment decisions based on it.

And if another alertable story had broken during that frantic few minutes, I might have had to ignore or postpone it. Thankfully, I wasn’t faced with that dilemma.