Unpacking the Lifespan of 2018’s Breaking News Cycles

March 4, 2019

In studying the life cycle of breaking news items through Google search data, Google Trends, Axios and data visualization firm Schema determined that the biggest moments of 2018 — which ranged from the government shutdown to the Thailand cave rescue — maintained the public’s attention for an average of seven days.

“Due to its volume, search interest can be a good proxy for the public’s interests,” according to Axios. “Knowing which events persist in public memory and which ones fade away can give us greater insight into the direction society is evolving.”

The study, titled “The Lifespan of News Stories,” also revealed:

  • News cycles for sudden or unexpected events — like the Missouri Duck Boat tragedy — experienced a quick spike in Google searches before a slow fall, while cycles for events with clear, simple resolutions — such as July’s blood moon — showed a slow, extended climb, followed by an immediate fall.
  • Cycles with many story developments, such as the Larry Nassar lawsuit, inspired multiple peaks in searches. The longest overall cycle was the midterm elections, which maintained a search interest span of 43 days.
  • The events with the most overall traffic were Hurricane Michael and Hurricane Florence, with the greatest concentration of related searches coming from the areas affected by the disaster.
  • While the study found that most days last year were accompanied by a significant news cycle, 2018 did feature some stretches without a major story; one noteworthy lull occurred in the time following Barbara Bush’s death in mid-April, a two-week period without any breaking news until Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano eruption on May 3. — Dean Essner


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