How soon we forget: What news looks like after it happens

So let’s say that you’re an editor somewhere and a story happens. You staff it, publish it and send it on its way. The truth is that most news is a disposable commodity and that no one notices what happens after it’s gone.

This is especially true in mid-local stories where the mindset is “We did it once, maybe twice. Unless something happens that advances the story, I’m done with it.” It happens in national stories, too, though the explosion of news outlets has made it happen less than it did.

But what if, after the mad rush of an initial story, something did happen? And what if  that something advanced the story, but the media decided that it was less important than the original story and consequently covered — or distributed it — less?

Here’s a graph I created using CustomScoop that shows exactly that. It also shows the peaks and valleys of news coverage of a single topic.



The first bump is June 28, 2013 — the day Hernandez is arrested. That’s 3,087 mentions in online and broadcast news sources. It tails off a bit then comes back on July 3, when the search warrant returns are made public.  But you’ll notice that there’s still a lot less interest there the arrest, though there’s much more information.

The next spike is July 10, when USA Today’s Kevin Manahan wrote a piece on the background of one of the police’s sources in the Hernandez investigation which was picked up by Gannett outlets around the country and Tim Dahlberg, AP’s national sports columnist, wrote a piece on red flags in Hernandez’s past.  Hernandez is still in the news and current at this point, and little piecemeal stuff is coming out, but the July 10 spike is mostly about Gannett papers using stuff from The Mothership and how far the Associated Press gets carried.

Our next spike is July 25 – 3,996 Hernandez stories in U.S. non-social media-sourced news stories. The stories are pegged to the Patriots’ veterans opening training camp and are mostly pickups of various reports of Tom Brady’s comments on the Hernandez story. Some of the news is new: There’s a photo of Hernandez allegedly holding a pistol.

We don’t see much happen until Aug. 22, when Hernandez is indicted (1,946 mentions). And the next spike comes on Sept. 6 (2,586 mentions)when Hernandez is arraigned.

At some point, the Hernandez story is a process story with actors in shoulder pads, and here’s how we can tell: Editors hate process stories (they’re often difficult to illustrate, among other things). Look at the story counts for the chronology items that are legal process.

Arrest: 3,087
Search warrant returns: 1,729
Indictment: 1,946
Arraignment: 2,586