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Physicists probe half-life of news

Physicists have been examining the half-life of online news and have come up with the startling discovery that most news is read soon after it is published. The scientists from Notre Dame University in the US and Hungarian collaborators report:

Our results document the fleeting quality of news and events: while fifteen minutes of fame is still an exaggeration in the online media, we find that access to most news items significantly decays after 36 hours of posting.

The research is reported by Physicsweb and what surprised me was the way in which online has extended the life of news stories which we used to consider only fit to wrap fish and chips after 24 hours.

The scientists, who worked with the largest Hungarian news portal, found that 28% of visits were on the first day and this fell to 7% on the second day. They put this down to items being moved to the archive where they will be found by search rather than front page or section links.

Look at this the other way. Two-thirds of hits on news stories take place after they have been put in the archive. In the days before online few people would have read a story after the second day: while some papers might be set-aside to read later or an interesting article clipped to share with friends, examining the archive meant a visit to the public library or the newspaper office.

Now it seems we are getting more readers after chip wrapping time.


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  1. Teaching Online Journalism: The "36 hours" meme and how it spread says

    […] I now have three differently dated versions of the pdf on my desktop. What they all have in common is that they predate publication in the academic journal Physical Review E. I was one of those who picked up the story from PhysicsWeb and wrote on July 10 about it showing the importance of old news to those who believed yesterday’s copy was only fit to wrap chips.There is a danger here for scientists as well as journalists. Multiple versions of material from before the version accepeted for publication in a reviewed journal can only confuse and, possibly, result in inaccuracies.   […]