Catherine Forsythe

Catherine Forsythe
Bio
know a bit about computer security, dogs, horses, skiing, medicine and making risotto. My nickname in real life/online is "Noggie" - I'm on Twitter, with the @dogreader account.

Editor’s Pick
JULY 21, 2010 2:40PM

Adverse Elements of the Continuous News Cycle

Rate: 20 Flag

There is an old adage that 'challenging competition makes you better'. That does not necessary apply to the news business. Most current internet users can remember the days when the news was accessed through the local newspaper or the half hour broadcast on evening television. There was time to digest the news, talk about it and sometimes act upon it.

Now, there is the competition of the continuous cable news networks and instant access of the internet. The competition is fierce. Local news outlets are not competing within the community for attention. The competition is with global networks and with instant information access online.

The subtle shift of that competition is that news outlets move away from social responsibility to sensationalism. An example is the offshoot of the CNN which gives the audience HLN. It is CNN's Headline News affiliate. On HLN, there will be entertainment shows like Nancy Grace, Joy Behar and Jane Velez Mitchell. These are examples of shows that take a single news items and sensationalize it to cover a half hour. It is not a in-depth analysis of the news. The programs are personality driven and public forms for the hosts. To present such programming as news is an affront to journalism.   

Nevertheless, this is what draws an audience and generates the advertising revenue. Unfortunately, the casualties of such a media focus is the news itself. What used to be a twenty four hour event cycle is a much shorter period for a news item. And some very important news becomes lost in the rush.

An example of this news rush is the Tylenol recall. In January of 2010, the Tylenol manufacturer McNeil Healthcare LLC was asked to recall tainted product:

"...  "McNeil should have acted faster," said Deborah Autor, director of the FDA's Office of Compliance, of the arm of Johnson & Johnson that manufactures Tylenol products, adding "When something smells bad, literally or figuratively, they must aggressively investigate and solve the problem." 

A recall of Tylenol products has began last month with the popular Tylenol arthritis caplet expanded to include more than two dozen other over-the-counter products manufactured by McNeil."


This was a news story that had immediate importance for the public's well being. However, it does not have the immediate sensationalism of a world class athlete's sexual scandal, a movie star behaving badly, a politician being obtuse, the horrific murder-of-the day and so forth. The Tylenol story is reported but its 'shelf life' for coverage is remarkably short.

The consequence is that in July, months after the initial news was reported in the media, there are some people who still have the medication and who are tempted to use the product. The Tylenol story may be accessible through an internet search or a newspaper archive. However, if a person is not monitoring the news continuously, such items are easily missed. 

There is an irony to this dilemma. With the speeding news cycle, the responsibility for spreading a factoid of importance may revert to 'word-of-mouth'. That 'word-of-mouth' may be in the form of an instant message, an email, a cell phone call, a blog or some other form of connection. How your friends and your family members may learn of such items as the Tylenol recall is by someone mentioning it. 

Within a few short hours, the news cycle will move on again. The media outlets are competing and it is questionable whether we, the public, are that much better for it.

Catherine Forsythe
 
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You're so right. I remember the Tylenol/poisoning recall of the 70s...it lasted longer and the 'fix' was more expensive precisely bc of the lack of cable news. Excellent! Rated.
You hit the nail on the head. We're definitely not that much better for it.
I cannot watch Nancy Grace or Velez-Mitchell. They're Jerry Springer, with a bit more polish and a shrill voice.
Here is where it gets tricky. You say, "Nevertheless, this is what draws an audience". Is that the media's fault or is it a reflection of the public's salaciousness? I'm guessing both.
CBC is a bit better, but the disease is creeping across the border...
Is there a cure? For this? For Any of this?

I'm afraid not. I know how it happened, I recognize it when I see it, and I don't think it can be stopped. EVERY THING is about the immediacy and SHOCK or SALACIOUSNESS or he/she's LYING.

All. The. Time.

What can we do?

Move?

Maybe.

{wretched moue}
"On HLN, there will be entertainment shows like Nancy Grace, Joy Behar and Jane Velez Mitchell. These are examples of shows that take a single news items and sensationalize it to cover a half hour."

A half hour? Are you kidding? They stretch crap over MONTHS!
Nancy Grace has a whole roster of raped/murdered children for her sob-sister antics.
The news cycle has always been continuous and competitive. Back in the day, when I was growing up, and there were 12 daily newspapers in New York City alone, the competition between them was vicious. I also remember the successive mergers, such as when the World Telegram and Sun, the Herald Tribune and the Journal American merged into the World Journal Tribune. (If you don't remember it, you're not alone; it only lasted eight months as I recall but it represented seven different newspapers now all lost to posterity.)

In any event, when I got to work at The New York Post, down on South Street, the first thing I did every evening was to read the City Edition of the Times, fresh off the presses to see what stories we would have to follow up. As a morning paper, the Times printed its first edition around 8 PM as I remember it, and the Late City would finally come out around 2 AM. We read that too.

My friends at the Times, always read the Post, but just for the laughs.

The point is that competition and shoddy workmanship have always been a plague on the newspaper business, and the 24 hour news cycle is no new thing.

The difference is this: Back in the day, the news came in distinct spurts. Today, it is constant, and changes in the stories being covered are edited on the fly, which much less time to ruminate and therefore much more error.

However, as I have said elsewhere, CNN has done us very good service in their coverage of this matter. In truth, they followed the erroneous story up, got the truth and brought it to our attention very quickly and very well, just as they did with the NAACP story, in which they actually brokered a cease fire between the Tea Party and the NAACP.

Let's see the New York Times match that.
News analysis requires research. When something happens, like the riots in Kyrgyzstan, analysts have to not only figure out where it is and how to pronounce the name, but get up-t0-date on the issues to avoid looking like they are totally ignorant. A quick scan of the internet is not enough.

Sex scandals are easy to cover. No one cares if the experts you invite to comment actually know much more than what the harvested from a back issue of People Magazine and scanned in the 15 minutes before the show began.
The "all news all the time" cycle we're in now is indeed bad for print newspapers and print weekly magazines and nightly broadcast news programs because now the news they report often is "old news", but the Internet and 24-hour news channels did not invent sensationalism.

If anything, the old news reporting practices became an industry of manufactured news. The news we get now is more instantaneous, and yes, that runs the risk of it being more unpolished and often frought with missing pieces and sometimes worse -- inaccuracies.

But that just means in my opinion that the public need to be more diligent and question the facts they're being fed. In the old days, the public became too complacent and the news media were too arrogant in their role as the gatekeepers of the news the public should hear, see, and read.
I love technology, I love the fact that I can look up a fact at a moment's notice, I love that we can share ideas in this way.

Advertising (which I know all too intimately)
sorry ... part II. ( My hand hit the mouse.)

Advertising hasn't infected this medium. Yet. Cable TV is a lost cause. I don't even watch it anymore. It is NOT news. It is a way to sell cars, cell phones and -- most of all -- immortality (America's phobia of death.)

I read an interesting post on "ruminate" the other day. "Chewing" ideas. Savoring ideas. Digesting ideas. The 24-hour frenzy is the equivalent of fast food. Bad for your mental health.
The 24-hour news cycle is both a blessing and a curse. I have been impressed with how quickly CNN and MSNBC jumped on Andrew Breitbart's erroneous reporting of the Shirley Sherrod story, or should I say non-story and the NAACP's knee-jerk reaction to it. Good commentary!