Evening TV News bulletins influenced by rolling 24 hour news culture

Posted by: Dr Stephen Cushion

Despite competition from new platforms online, on smart phones or on 24-hour television news channels, television news bulletins continue to be one of the most influential sources of news for most people in many Western democracies. According to recent Ofcom research, over three quarters of people indicated they regularly watched television news in the UK, a much larger share than news read online, in newspapers or listened to on the radio. But while bulletins continue to be the most consumed form of news, new research published in the European Journal of Communication suggests that the logic of ‘old’ news formats such as evening bulletins is being challenged by the logic of ‘new’ rolling news formats.

While evening bulletins have traditionally involved gathering, editing and packaging news for viewers over the course of the day, a rolling news logic strives to deliver news immediately and on a continual basis. Viewers, in other words, no longer have to wait for morning, lunch time or evening bulletins, since 24-hour news channels, online news or social media platforms deliver an instant fix. So how far are evening bulletins now influenced by 24-hour news platforms?

To explore whether the format and style of fixed time bulletins have been influenced by the wider culture of rolling news, the study carried out a content analysis of the major evening news bulletins in the US, UK and Norway. The research was designed to explore the degree to which news was either edited, scripted and source driven, on the one hand, or live, improvised and interpretive on the other hand. In doing so, it asked are evening bulletins delivering news live “as it happens” (as many news channels now claim) or reflecting the day’s news? Put another way, to what extent are evening bulletins cross-nationally similar to the values inherent in rolling news formats?

In US and UK evening news bulletins – where the culture of dedicated 24-hour news is long-standing – a greater degree of live and interpretive news was present. 24-hour news channels have been operating in the US and UK since the 1980s, of course, whereas the domestic culture of rolling newsrooms is relatively new in Norway. A rolling news channel – TV2 – was not launched until 2007 in Norway. In the US and UK, by contrast, the 24-hour news landscape is far more competitive (from Fox News, CNN and MNBC to BBC News and Sky News). In other words, the wider environment of 24-hour television news has arguably not influenced Norwegian news bulletins to the same degree as in the US and UK.

Beyond the cross-national differences, the study also considered the wider consequences of 24-hour news culture on fixed time bulletins. For the types of rolling news conventions displayed in contemporary evening bulletins – delivering a sense of immediacy (reporting live) and pace (constant updates) or extending geographic space (being on location) – raises questions about how audiences are being informed about what is happening the world. After all, while a greater reliance on live, up-to-date news might appear to make bulletins more relevant and cutting-edge within the news industry, it could ultimately be at the expense of supplying audiences with the necessary background/context edited packages have traditionally delivered.

(The article was written by Stephen Cushion, Toril Aalberg and Richard Thomas and will be published in the European Journal of Communication. A UK study exploring similar themes was also recently published in the July 2013 edition of The International Journal of Press/Politics)