Today’s 24-hour News Cycle and the Relevant Value of Information

Photo by  Filip Mishevski .

Photo by Filip Mishevski.

When I was in college, a professor made this very simple yet profound observation. 150+ years ago, it may have taken someone three days to transport their goods to the nearest city on horseback. Now it could take them three hours, but if they’re 30-minutes late, they’re frustrated. The fact that I can get there quickly has somehow translated to the fact that I MUST get there quickly in our modern world. The same is true of information.

I’ll let you in on a little secret. 24-hour news doesn’t mean there are new stories and details every minute of the day. Shocking right? In reality, 24-hour continuous news was never meant to be watched continuously. Editors operate with the knowledge that in most cases, they have a new audience every hour or certainly every three hours (a holdover from drive time radio programming). Broadcast news repeats itself a lot because of this.

YOU’RE NOT GOING TO MISS OUT ON ANYTHING

Yes, new developments unfold throughout the day. Some news really is “breaking,” but they’re going to summarize and refine that story in the next segment, then again for the next hour, and then again for the evening broadcasts. Then there’s the overnight crew and the morning shift that hadn’t had an opportunity to tell the latest details of such and such story to their audiences, so they tell it all again. Is the repetition in broadcast news starting to make sense? It’s not because they don’t have anything else to say. It’s because they need to operate under the assumption that every hour or so, they’re telling a new audience this story for the first time. The fact that we’ve been watching the same channel for the last six hours is our fault.

This is why the major network evening news broadcasts were such a big thing and why that concept still holds a lot of value, although it can seem dated at times today. You have one broadcast to tell you all of the major news in the last 24-hours. It’s the same way a newspaper has all the major stories of the last day in their morning edition. The broadcast network and newspaper may be Tweeting and racing to get out new details to you every few minutes throughout the day, but if you CHOOSE to consume their few key deliverables at a given time of the day, you’re still going to get the story. The skyrocketing volume of constant content from news outlets doesn’t mean we have to consume it all. It just means that today we have a CHOICE of when we consume it.

MORE NEWS AND FEWER JOURNALISTS TO TELL THOSE STORIES

A few years back, The Atlantic did the research and found that The Washington Post was publishing around 500 unique stories a day. That didn’t include wire stories, videos or other content. By any count, that far outnumbers what the paper was doing when it was a print only publication. When I started in network radio news back in 2000, we produced a top of the hour, five minute national news broadcast for between 20–26 million weekly listeners.

If major national or international news broke, the editors on duty would turn around and have a conversation if the development warranted interrupting local broadcasts around the country with a breaking news update at :31 minutes past the hour. Then the September 11th attacks happened. Suddenly that :31 past the hour news update became part of the regular programming (whether there was something to update or not) and the only real question when breaking news happened was whether we added additional updates at :20 and :50 minutes past the hour or :10, :20, :40 and :50. That pace had not changed ten years after September 11, 2001 and continues today with an increasingly smaller newsroom to deliver that content.

More news coverage does not equal more news, though. All of the important information was still included in the top of the hour broadcast for radio. Major stories in The Washington Post still made it to the next morning’s print edition. The fact that we can access all that breaking news instantaneously doesn’t necessarily mean that we need to.

FOMO (FEAR OF MISSING OUT) IS ONLY REAL IN YOUR MIND

Every smartphone news alert, Tweet or text message isn’t heralding the end of the world. If they were, you’d eventually figure it out yourself. Our smartphone’s today constantly beep, buzz and berate us, but there’s no reason for us to give them that power. Give yourself permission to wait five minutes to check your phone if it’s not truly an emergency. Or even consider turning off some of the news alerts you have pushing to your device and give yourself the opportunity to experience the world around you (and/or focus on your work or family). Again, I work in an environment where I can receive breaking news requests any time of the day so I check my phone, but I also practice good judgement deciding what needs an immediate response and what can wait an hour or even until morning.