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Media Persistence: When does the news story get old?

With recent storms, high-profile shooting tragedies, and the ongoing political climate, the US news media has again reminded us they they have a hard time letting go of a story. Universal Information Services monitors all news media and analyzes content for organizations and government agencies. In our activities we observe trends within the news coverage, and have again seen how media persistence often keeps the news focused on a story, long after anything new is occurring. Although the cases I outline below are recent, they are intended as apolitical and should serve merely as recent illustrations of how the media will stay on a story long after they should move on.

Case 1: Apparently the broadcast networks believe the United States is comprised of about 12 states in the East and Northeast. http://www.bvonmoney.com/2011/01/07/sanitation-union-new-york-city-snow-problems/

Evidence: An analysis of recent blizzards and heavy snow storms reveal that the heaviest snow fall does not actually occur in New York City, Boston, or Philadelphia. In fact, The upper Midwest and the Rocky Mountain states get far more snowfall per year than any of the aforementioned cities. But to hear Sam Champion (ABC), Al Roker (NBC), or whoever the current weather person is on CBS tell the story you would think snow only falls on the east coast. Amazingly, these three networks will devote nearly 40% of their newscasts telling us of the great difficulties facing our nation because of the east coast weather. By my math, there’s at least 40 other states that are seemingly still in operation, even when our geo-centric networks believe the entire country has been shutdown because New York City got 8 inches of snow. Omaha got 8 inches of snow last weekend and the local news media gave balanced coverage on the impact from the storm. Locally, the news even found time to cover other local and national news stories and moved on after the storm stopped. Hmmm, so maybe in this case it is a network news issue and the local media can, well, localize the story more and knows when to move on to other issues.

Case 2: Tucson Tragedy: The Gabrielle Giffords Shooting http://politic365.com/2011/01/10/giffords-shooting-why-arent-we-calling-it-terrorism/

Evidence: Yes, by all accounts this was a horrible occurrence. Whether by gun, knife, or stone, the senseless killing of anyone should be condemned. This tragedy happened on Saturday morning, January 8th. From that evening through January 12th, the network news devoted the majority of their “news” programming to this one issue. Yes, several angles were covered from the act, to the politics, to who failed to do what. These issues definitely need to be covered, but in the situation of NBC’s Today Show, do we need four hours on this one topic? In all fairness, NBC did sprinkle a few other stories in there, like the massive snow storm sweeping the East Coast. However, when hours after the incidents turn into days of coverage, news directors and assignment editors need to think about “story fatigue”.

When you, the media, have nothing new to report…move on. Your viewers are people, not machines sucking in data no matter what the message. We crave variety. We have varying interests. We don’t all live in New York, Boston, or Philadelphia. When your news story gets old, we move to different channels or mediums. If you’re tired of losing viewers to reruns of The Office or the iPad, then program for people. The #samerules of human nature have not changed. We simply have #newtools at our disposal that make it easier to tune out and turn off…well maybe we’re not turning off. The news consumer has and will continue to seek out the type and variety of news their mind needs as long as the media fails to move on when the story gets old.

If you need help analyzing your own news, or want to see the results of our news consumption studies, let me know. I also encourage you to comment, a variety of opinions is also good.

5 Comments on “Media Persistence: When does the news story get old?”

  1. 1 Tweets that mention Media Persistence: When does the news story get old? | Universal Information Services, Inc -- Topsy.com said at 1:19 pm on January 17th, 2011:

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Todd Murphy. Todd Murphy said: New Blog Post: Media Persistence: When does the news story get old? Read, comment, subscribe: http://tinyurl.com/6lg4wop by Todd Murphy […]

  2. 2 Deborah Trivitt said at 9:19 pm on January 17th, 2011:

    Todd, we’ve talked about how some stories “have legs”. Remember the death of Samantha Spady and how long that stayed in the news and how it came up again every time another college (or HS) student died of alcohol poisoning? I haven’t seen the topic in the news lately, but suspect it wouldn’t take much to resurrect it.

    I agree on the east coast storms! Geesh, people, shovel yourselves out , come see the rest of the country, and quit whining already!

  3. 3 Todd Murphy said at 9:48 am on January 18th, 2011:

    Thanks, Deb, for your thoughts. I completely agree that some stories become “reference” stories. Each time a similar, or even vaguely related story hits the news, these reference stories are dusted off. In many ways I would say that this practice gives credibility to the more recent story. The tiresome trend of dragging out the same story, in a contiguous time line and in the absence of any new facts or information, that is what seems to exacerbate the “tune out” factor.

    By the way, how much coverage will IA, NE, and MO get for the 4-6 inches of snow hitting that region tomorrow? The East Coast was crippled again today by a massive 2-3 inches.

  4. 4 Mitch Treu said at 4:50 pm on January 18th, 2011:

    Yes, I agree… WE the people are not data “juice heads” (cc #jerseyshore) and do not need to have consumption overload to feel informed and fulfilled. If networks feel it is necessary to share every drip, use your resources to collaborate over specific mediums to disclosure extended updates. Track it. And then see how your readership is doing…?

  5. 5 Todd Murphy said at 10:20 am on January 20th, 2011:

    Thanks, Mitch. Many mediums have fallen into the trap of thinking more is better. More is rarely better, but rather quality and focus is key. When focused, the media has more room for additional stories and perspectives. When they lack focus we simply here the same thing over.

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