When Does New News Become Old News?
A recent article by Noam Cohen in The New York Times cites a study by physicist Albert-László Barabási, a professor at Notre Dame, who found that it takes 36 hours for half of total web readership of a news article to have read it. (I confess I was surprised. I would have guessed it would be something more like 2 to 4 hours.)
According to Dr. Barabási, web surfers don’t read news articles evenly throughout the day. Instead, they read in bursts. So while a story will seem old to some users, others who have been away from the Internet for a while become intrigued by a story and catch up with their reading all at one time.
So, overall, the venue of online news gains stature and value and broadens the range of public relations.
The implications of these finding are very interesting, from a PR standpoint.
- Online news is around a lot longer than expected, making it an attractive media placement opportunity. If 36 hours is the half-life of a news story on the web, how long is a whole life? 72 hours?
- Does this information give online news a new advantage over advertising? People are motivated to come back for news and further interpretations of it. In fact, perhaps the half-life may be extended beyond 36 hours, as online audiences expand. With a few notable exceptions — such as Apple’s new Mac ads, Guinness’s Evolution commercial and Burger King’s Subservient Chicken — it’s hard to motivate people to come back for advertising.
- If news is around for that long online, when does new news become old news offline? Many people keep newspapers and magazines around for months. Conventional wisdom is that yesterday's news is yesterday's news, and people are no longer interested. Perhaps we need to take another look.
- The longer shelf life motivates corporations to release more information online, knowing it will stick. And who knows more about doing that than public relations professionals?
- Almost everyone employs the internet to get to the bottom of any information search. The fact that the life of new news is longer than we thought means that there may be less need for paid archives.
- In a sense this new information gives us the equivalent of an offline reprint. We have always advised clients that someone may miss an offline story and never see it again. Therefore, hard copy reprints took on greater value. You could hold them in your hands. They lasted. Now we know that online news is not the flash in the pan we thought it was. And you can create a hard copy reprint off the internet too ... or you can find it online for quite a while ... or find it in the archives.
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