The News

“Journalism: an ability to meet the challenge of filling the space.” -Rebecca West

I’m pretty much, by all definitions, a news junkie. When I lived in the US, I’d turn on the local NPR (WAMU) station in the morning when I was getting ready for work, listen to it in the car on my commute, have it on all day while I was at work, listen to it in the car on the way home, keep it on while I made dinner, etc.

However, in The Netherlands, I can’t flip on a radio and listen to the news. There is no NPR and the local news is in Dutch. When I first arrived, I found myself in a news blackout. So I began to download my favorite NPR shows as podcasts and I added a few from the BBC and The Economist. I also started to stream WAMU in the morning. Of course, my 9AM is 3AM US East Coast time, so there isn’t much going on back home and NPR plays British news shows during these early morning hours.

I began to notice something. The British news shows seemed much longer. At first, I thought maybe the British shows were, simply, longer. But they aren’t. The shows from both sides of the pond are a standard 30 or 60 minutes (podcast versions, without commercials, run 20-25 minutes or 45-50 minutes).

It then occurred to me that the segments on the British shows were longer. While the American shows seem to cover a topic in 3-4 minutes, the British shows often take 8-10 or even 12 or 15 minutes in some cases. So I did an informal study. I counted the number of stories featured in some American news shows and some British news shows. And, sure enough, the American shows cover way more topics than the British shows do. The American shows have an average of 21.4 stories per hour or 10.7 stories per half hour while the British shows have an average of 7.5 stories per hour or 3.75 stories per half hour.

As a result, the American shows don’t have the same in-depth coverage that the British shows do. I get a much better idea of what’s going on (for example, in Libya) with a British show than I do with an American show. However, I prefer the American model for two reasons. For one, I will go look up more information about a story if I want it, so having more in the show isn’t beneficial for me. And finally, I’m too ADD to sit through a 16 minute story about the humanitarian crisis at the Libyan/Tunisian border. I tune it out and end up missing out on later stories, because I’m not paying attention.

Do Americans just have shorter attention spans? Do Brits prefer quality over quantity?
Simply a matter of different journalistic expectations?

You can see my “data” after the jump.

[EXPAND ]All Things Considered
March 4 – 19 stories
March 3 – 19 stories
March 2 – 21 stories
March 1 – 21 stories
Feb 28 – 20 stories

Morning Edition
March 4 – 25 stories
March 3 – 22 stories
March 2 – 24 stories
March 1 – 21 stories
Feb 28 – 22 stories

Average of 21.4 stories per hour or 10.7 stories per half hour

BBC World Service News Hour
March 4 PM – 7 stories
March 4 AM – 8 stories
March 3 PM – 8 stories
March 3 AM – 8 stories
March 2 PM – 9 stories
March 2 AM – 7 stories
March 1 PM – 6 stories
March 1 AM – 8 stories
Feb 28 PM – 6 stories
Feb 28 AM – 8 stories

Average of 7.5 stories per hour or 3.75 stories per half hour.[/EXPAND]

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