It seems not that long ago that the only time you saw a ticker list of information across the bottom, or side, of a TV screen was when relaying stock market or related activity. Stocks and other commodities current value was flashed in a continuous loop, in real time when available. The loop would run, perhaps slower, perhaps quicker. In any event, the general effect was that only this type of activity merited the live ticker stream.
Then, with the advent of all-news television, the competition for viewers in this somewhat niche viewing area became more intensified. No doubt the overall audience potential was heightened by the expansion in outlets and profile, but viewer loyalty could not be taken for granted. Becoming more and more current with stories being reported on was important to the larger organizations.
This led to a couple of overhyped, bridging manoeuvers in broadcasts. Having news as much as possible happening live gave us the ‘BREAKING NEWS’ template, with visual options to elongate viewer anticipation of the breaking story. It also gave us the chance to hear whole new generations of spokespeople, public advocates, and commentators, some of whom seem to have established nice additional exposure and income, on occasion filling in time with the network awaiting juicy developments to update reports.
With the last few years, news outlets of any substantial place in the market have added the omnipresent (or substantially present) news ticker on the bottom of the screen, somehow avoiding this distraction during paid commercials. They are distracting. When the rest of the screen is somewhat static, naturally the eye is susceptible to being drawn to movement. Whether the subject blurb is usually a few to several words, or has additional blurbs to ‘flesh out’ the story, it is competing for attention with the traditional ongoing broadcast. Often, like many regularly experienced sources of distraction, it’s possible to minimize divided attention through mental effort. However, sometimes a ‘breaking news’ message is thrown in the news ticker, and it’s harder to ignore – even if this is a loop repeat in itself.
Moreover, the significance of the ticker stories varies. Having a complement of headlines from other sectors or culture is common, at times filling the ‘lighter side of things’ mantle. However, the long-standing problem with visual bites (as with sound bytes) is that whoever is wording the message (or editing the tape) is to some extent controlling how the story will be perceived. Especially if we accept that many people don’t go into much depth beyond impressions, then we need to be concerned about the fairness with which even just ticker headlines portray a story.