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Why do news stories die? – The ebb and flow of news stories

This morning Mashable posted that 24 days after Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 went missing, interest on Twitter is at an all time low, and coverage of the event is lessening.   Mashable reports,  “…traditional sources such as the BBC or CNN as well as online articles from local newspapers and journals– are down 64% from the high reached on March 24 at 35,715.” 

News trucks at the Hannah Anderson Fundraiser – copyright 2013 jdean

A missing plane story is similar to a missing person story.  From what I have experienced, when there is a particularly interesting missing case, like the Holly Bobo case or the baby Lisa Irwin case, the public and the media is all in, waiting for any tidbit of information.  Fast forward about two weeks and interest begins to wane until eventually there is no coverage by the media and the only people who continue to follow the story is those in the biz or the family themselves.

This is devastating to families and friends of the missing, and particularly a bone of contention for me.  I guess I put myself in the family’s shoes a lot and think to myself, how desperate and frustrated I would be if I saw the media going away, or if volunteers stopped showing up to search. 

But, human nature is a fickle beast.  I may be screaming at my computer, “there’s a child missing, and we haven’t found her yet, we can’t give up.” But even if the world could hear me, it would do little to bring back interest.  I am afraid that boredom is stronger than humanitarianism.

Many blame the media for not continuing their interest but the media goes and stays where the interests lies.  Reporters are known for their dogmatic ways, and will continue to report to the public as long as someone wants to hear a story until it is obvious the public has moved on.  The media has suffered with the slings and arrows of public opinion that they need to stay on top of a missing person story until they are found, because the public burdens them with the task of keeping the story alive.  But, I believe that is too idealistic.  The media could run a story every day for months, and it would not bring interest back to the missing person.  At the most it could do though, is reach someone that never saw the story when it was first released.

But why does the public move on?  Well, it could be no more than simple boredom.  German psychologist Theodor Lipps stated that boredom was “a feeling of unpleasure arising out of a conflict between a need for intense mental activity and lack of incitement to it, or inability to be incited.”  So, in other words hearing that a plane mysteriously disappeared, a mysterious disappearance of a baby or a young woman led into the woods by an unknown person, gets out brains thinking and we want to know more, but whether the information stops coming or we have learned all we can on the subject, boredom starts seeping in and thus we are no longer interested in the story, and we move on to the next event.

Interest may stay longer if we are personally affected by it or are physically part of the event, but after about two weeks, the story has made its rounds, reached an ebb and spiraled down to another “been there, heard that, discussed it, and have moved on” event.

The news is not the only one that is subject to lack of interest.   According to Academics at Princeton University, “The future suggests that Facebook will undergo a rapid decline in the coming years, losing 80% of its peak user base between 2015 and 2017.”  In fact, there are more people in the 40-64 age group using Facebook now than teens.  Suggesting that Facebook will eventually go the way of MySpace. 

If I kept your interest enough for you to read this whole article, and you might be feeling a little guilty about your dispassionate feelings, I’d like to suggest that you can revolt against it by posting the story of the missing plane on Twitter or Facebook today.  In a very subtle way you can rock the stats and confuse the keepers of trends.  The results would be anything but boring.

One thought on “Why do news stories die? – The ebb and flow of news stories”

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