Tuned In

Dead Tree Alert: The 24-Minute News Cycle

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In this week’s TIME, I take one last look back at the coverage of the 2008 election; in particular, the metabolism of an election cycle in which new media were ever more dominant, and how the old media huffed and puffed trying to keep pace on that treadmill: 

If you’re like me–and I hope for your sake that you’re not–you have been spending the past weeks visiting election-news sites and hitting the Refresh button on your Web browser. New Fox News poll out this afternoon! No? Let’s go to Gawker and see what Elisabeth Hasselbeck said about Barack Obama on The View today! Are those poll numbers up at Politico? Drudge? Huffington Post? No? Refresh!

After a while, that little icon becomes less an option than a command. Refresh! Refresh! Refresh! You hit the button, take a big info swig and are left thirstier than you were before. It’s the pause that doesn’t refresh and the refresh that never pauses.

And it no longer matters if you’re not obsessed with politics. Because even if you take in only the occasional newspaper, newscast or episode of Saturday Night Live, the coverage you see is driven by the fixations and miniscandals whipped up in the unsleeping election media. With cable and now online outlets that can make anything news at any time, the media formerly known as mainstream are dealing with news that can go through several rounds of attack and counter-attack between the morning paper and the evening news. The 24-hour news cycle that media critics used to bemoan seems as quaint and leisurely as a taffy pull. We’re now living in a 24-minute news cycle.