A news cycle is a round of coverage once measured in the number of hours between each issue of a newspaper. The term originated in the United States, and the Oxford English Dictionary dates the earliest use to a 1922 Los Angeles Times article. Major metropolitan newspapers back then published multiple editions daily, but smaller local and most international newspapers followed a cycle of 24 hours, publishing at about the same time daily, either morning or evening (News; Newspaper). The Associated Press (AP) sent stories to its member organizations designated AM or PM, indicating whether the member belonged in, and could publish the content in, a morning or afternoon slot. AP sent corrections and updates over cable (first the wire, then computer) as news broke. Broadcast news initially scheduled programs in daily time slots, although stations did interrupt regular programming for breaking news.
The transition to shorter cycles emerged slowly. With the introduction of The Today Show on the US ABC network in 1952, the broadcast news cycle added a morning to its existing afternoon arc. The 24-hour news channel CNN launched in 1980, and in the UK Sky News followed in 1989. Al Jazeera began broadcasting on its pan-Arab network in 1996, and the BBC’s News 24 channel began in 1997. Responding to the way news outlets were delivering information, the AP in 2000 replaced AM and PM designations with BC, signifying both cycles, which some considered continuous.
The phrase “24-hour news cycle” emerged in the 1980s to express the idea that satellite transmissions (and, later, Internet postings) produce a nonstop flow of news updating events internationally. Journalism practitioners and scholars have expressed concerns about a negative impact on news, because the rush to publish limits how much sourcing, fact checking, and editing news producers can do and allows rumor and speculation to disseminate (e.g., Merritt 2006). Faster news cycles may not lead to better-informed citizens.
The global, continuous, or rolling news cycle has redefined – although not done away with – the traditional daily round of print or broadcast journalists.
They update the website throughout the day, while still reporting and writing within the daily production framework. In March 2007, the UK Guardian became a web-first newspaper, publishing “Principles of 24/7 Working” (www.cyberjournalist.net) to address the challenges journalists face when reporting news instantly.
Some researchers suggest that increasing how fast the media push a story to audiences decreases how much context journalists can provide (Kansas & Gitlin 1999). Others say faster news cycles have replaced the competition for scoops (winning the race to publish news first) with a competition for immediacy. Immediacy favors spectatorship over investigation and creates the feeling of discovery while doing little to enhance understanding (Lewis et al. 2005). The websites of major newspapers may be doing more to exploit immediacy than depth in their reporting. Researchers conclude that constant, live coverage encourages questionable strategies to compensate for a lack of new facts to report. They point to a strategic use of silence, not just the absence of talk or sound but a metaphorical silence that covers up the lack of new (by incessantly repeating old) information. The live broadcast shifts news from reporting to keeping in touch with the audience, a more interpersonal function (Jaworski et al. 2005).
The nonstop cycle may degrade news in other ways. “Breaking news,” the very kind that ongoing cycles would seem best suited to serve, may devolve into firsts only because no other channel finds the stories worth reporting. The content of broadcast news becomes more focused on trends and lifestyles, because scheduled newscasts are less current than the stations’ own websites or the cable channels (Montopoli 2005).
The research literature explores news cycles in Europe and North America but rarely in other parts of the world. The so-called CNN effect suggests that global 24-hour media have an impact on political and military behaviors in other countries. Despite the lack of strong empirical evidence, the effect continues to be a topic of interest (Hess 2002; Livingston 1997).
Although news may always be on the air or online, the constant flow is not necessarily proof of a continuous cycle. The repetition of most news outlets turns the news cycle, in some ways, into the news recycle. Google News on one day offered access to about 14,000 stories from its front page, but these recounted the same two dozen news events (Project for Excellence in Journalism 2006). On cable, just half the stories in a 12-hour span were new, suggesting that the notion of an all-day, all-week news cycle is an exaggeration. That said, news organizations face relentless time pressures in the speed required to produce news and in the stretches of time and space online requiring filling (García Avilés et al. 2004).
- García Avilés, J., León, B., Sanders, K., & Harrison, J. (2004). Journalists at digital television newsrooms in Britain and Spain: Workflow and multi-skilling in a competitive environment. Journalism Studies, 5, 87–100.
- Hess, S. (2002). The CNN effect: How 24-hour news coverage affects government decisions and public opinion. Brookings/Harvard Forum: Press Coverage and the War on Terrorism, January 23. At www.brookings.edu, accessed July 12, 2007.
- Jaworski, A., Fitzgerald, R., & Constantinou, O. (2005). Busy saying nothing new: Live silence in TV reporting of 9/11. Multilingua, 24, 122 –144.
- Kansas, D., & Gitlin, T. (1999). What’s the rush? An e-epistolary debate on the 24-hour news clock. Media Studies Journal, 13, 72 –76.
- Lewis, J., Cushion, S., & Thomas, J. (2005). Immediacy, convenience or engagement? An analysis of 24-hour news channels in the UK. Journalism Studies, 6, 461– 477.
- Livingston, S. (1997). Clarifying the CNN effect: An examination of media effects according to type of military intervention. Working paper, Shorenstein Center, Harvard University. At www.ksg.harvard.edu.
- Merritt, D. (2006). Heroes in the tough transition to digital news. Nieman Reports, 60, 77. At www.nieman.harvard.edu/reports/06 –2NRsummer/Courage-United-States.pdf, accessed July 12, 2007.
- Montopoli, B. (2005). Surviving the shrinking news cycle. Public Eye [blog], October 4. At www.cbsnews.com.
- Project for Excellence in Journalism (2006). The state of the news media. Annual report. At www.stateofthenewsmedia.org, accessed July 12, 2007.