Monday, July 31, 2006

When Does New News Become Old News?

… On the internet, the answer is: about a day and a half, which is good news from a public relations standpoint.

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.

  1. 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?

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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?

  5. 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.

  6. 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.
In his interview, Dr. Barabási makes an excellent suggestion. He urges editors to promote articles on their Web site, even after they have lost their “news value,” because “searches won’t help readers who don’t know what they have been missing.”

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

The half life will be well beyond 36 hours, and as for the full life, well, who knows? With bloggers pinging news around the Internet, the life of news can extend well beyond what the Professor suggests. As PR professionals we can be doing a better job of educating our clients on the advantages of online news versus print, particularly with more and more print publications embracing online strategies.

Monday, July 31, 2006 12:17:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Old" online news of yesterday because research material today or it becomes text for search engine spiders to index and regurgitate in search engine search.

Online news is powerful tool...besides, what else would bloggers link to?

That's something to think about after your next nap.

Kevin Nichols

Tuesday, August 01, 2006 1:43:00 PM  
Blogger Ken Makovsky said...

Old online news also disappears, as many media eventually remove it. I agree that online news is a powerful tool but many corporate leaders still prefer the tangible effect of old-fashioned magazines and the articles they can reprint and distribute.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006 6:40:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Overall we should look at it from both standpoints, client and agency.

As a client, it's nice to see the online news coverage of my company and receive the extra impressions/readership of the media vehicle. But also as a client, I should realize that online content is a different animal....where a newspaper or magazine article has a shelf life, online media...even if the turnover is very fast...can be prolonged depending on archival interests of the web site. My small agency couldn't even begin to deduce the effectiveness of online versus traditional news clippings, but it would be a nice number to know.

As an agency owner, online clippings look great for us as we can use them in the age-old PR/Advertising comparision we use. Is it a good factual number to go by....probably not. But when a client requires justification and results, this is a good start. We find that sometimes online clippings are "easier" to obtain because of the very nature of the almost limitless space of the Internet.

Kevin Nichols

Friday, August 04, 2006 10:08:00 PM  
Blogger Ken Makovsky said...

Thanks for your comment. I appreciate all you say and agree with you. In response to the "effectiveness of online versus traditional news clippings," it depends what "effectiveness" means. If it is the impact on the recipient, it may depend on who the recipient is, the world he or she inhabits -- online or offline -- and how each person views both of these worlds. The Holmes Report in its August 7 issue reported that the Internet is viewed as supplemental, and not the primary source of news for most people, according to the Pew Research Center.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006 12:04:00 PM  

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