What the Death of News Cycles Really Means For Most Humans.

A week ago, Mizzou’s men’s basketball coach, Mike Anderson, left to take the same position at Arkansas. And in the past week, there’s been a lot of speculation about who will become my alma mater’s new head coach. Mizzou went hard after Purdue’s coach, Matt Painter. Today, it looked like MU was going to sign him to a contract. I was following it all on Twitter. I had a column up in TweetDeck delivering every tweet related to Painter. They filed in, sometimes by the second. When the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that Painter had agreed to sign with Mizzou, Tiger fans started celebrating. Purdue fans, meanwhile, were pissed. When KOMU-TV in Columbia said the deal was 100% done, things got even more charged. Tweets were tweeted that I wouldn’t want to republish here.

And then, in 20 minutes, it all changed. One Indianapolis outlet reported Painter was staying. Then ESPN said so. Then CBS and FOX Sports. Then Purdue announced, officially, that the contract was done.

The tweets turned around. The Purdue fans were relieved. The Tiger fans were pissed.

After it was all over, I started thinking about a friend of mine, who was on a flight from Chicago to D.C. this afternoon. That’s a two-and-a-half hour flight. In the time between takeoff and landing, he missed an entire stream of emotions and news. While he was in the air, the story went one direction, then 180ed and went the other. The life cycle of the story started and ended in less time than wheels up to wheels down. When he landed, the story was already over. Like, over. Dead. Forgotten. By tomorrow, outside of Columbia, Mo., and West Lafayette, Ind., nobody will pay any attention to what’s just happened. The news will be less than 12 hours old, with emphasis on the old.

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So here’s a thought. It’s not scary or frightening or dangerous to our democracy. But I think it’s something worth considering.

It’s this: We don’t have news cycles anymore. We used to. We had news cycles where topics dominated the news and then faded out in favor of other topics. We had news cycles that lasted long enough for the public to learn about the topics of the day and make decisions about them. We had news cycles where what was in Tuesday’s Washington Post was probably still headline news on Sunday’s “Meet the Press.”

We don’t have that anymore. But we did, as recently as a decade ago.

I know, because, well, TV told me so. I was just watching a “West Wing” episode — Season 1, Episode 21: “Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics.” It aired on May 10, 2000. In it, Rob Lowe’s character, Sam Seaborn, is photographed by paparazzi late at night while giving a graduation gift to a friend. The friend happens to be a call girl, and Sam’s a speechwriter for the President. Sam doesn’t see the paparazzi, but he does see a car rush away from the scene, and he’s suspicious. His worried about what a photo could do for the President’s public image. He calls C.J. Cregg, the President’s press secretary, to tell her what he’s seen.

Here’s the conversation that ensues the following morning between Leo McGarry, the President’s chief of staff, and C.J.:

LEO: How do you not tell me until this morning?

C.J.: Leo…

LEO: How do you not call me last night?

C.J.: We didn’t know anything last night.

LEO: Sam called you.

C.J.: That’s right. He met the girl and saw a suspicious car. I’m not going to call up the White House Chief of Staff in the middle of the night because someone started a car.

LEO: C.J., if it was…

C.J.: I was handling it, Leo. It took me three hours to confirm there was a picture, and another hour to find out who has it.

LEO: Who has it?

C.J.: The London Daily Mirror. They paid a waitress friend of hers $50,000 to set it up and confirm that she was a call girl.

LEO: When is it running?

C.J.: It’ll run later today. American press has it tomorrow morning.

In May of 2000, that was a realistic conversation. It wouldn’t be today. The obvious thing is that once the British paper got the photo, they wouldn’t be waiting for the presses. They’d have the photo online, and then everyone would have the photo. You’d wake up and it’d be staring back at you from your Facebook news feed.

There’s one another thing that wouldn’t happen today: If the President’s press secretary was lucky enough to find out in advance about scandalous news — say, if a USDA executive made controversial, on-the-record remarks — the White House would be barely ahead of the news cycle. But mostly, the news cycle is ahead of the actual newsmakers. Something is said, something is known, the public learns of it, the public renders its verdict on the news, and perhaps only then would the C.J. Creggs of the world have a chance to comment on it. The story is revealed in parts, often haltingly, and often without all the details. By the time the full story surfaces, the news cycle is already over.

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So, no, we don’t have news cycles anymore. We have moments. They start and they end faster than we can even process. A government’s overthrown in Egypt; we watch, and we forget. Japan’s hit by a tsunami, and it’s out of the news two weeks later. Libya’s being bombed, Iraq and Afghanistan are still at war, Sudan’s splitting apart, the economy’s slumping, the Chinese are doing God-knows-what with our money, the price of oil is rising, the dollar is falling, the cherry blossoms are blooming and the Nationals still don’t have an Opening Day starter. All moments. There are all these moments happening around us, all in real time, and we’re able to actually watch them pass and disappear behind us. You can sit there at your computer screen and actually watch the moments pass, in one eye and right out of sight.

I know, because today, I sat with a TweetDeck column open for the words “Matt Painter,” and I watched them pass.

It’s sad that that “West Wing” episode is hopelessly antiquated, because it’s only a decade old. Here’s a better example for our modern news cycle. It’s actually a quote from “Top Gun.” It’s from that fight scene at the end of the movie. Tom Cruise has just taken off from the flight deck in the Indian Ocean. Val Kilmer’s going one-on-five versus the Russian MiGs. The captain of the ship wants to launch additional planes into battle. And here’s what he’s told:

Officer: Both catapults are broken, sir.
Stinger: How long will it take?
Officer: It’ll take 10 minutes.
Stinger: Bullshit, 10 minutes! This thing will be over in two minutes! Get on it!

In Internet time, hours feel like days, and days feel like weeks. The web isn’t killing our brains, but it is killing our internal clocks. When the world is on demand, anything delivered less than instantaneously is an eternity.

That’s what we’re up against today. It used to be that there was no time like the present. No longer. Today, there’s only time like the present. If it’s not happening now, it’s barely happening at all.

What we really need to learn is patience. But where will we find the time?

When I Get Jealous Over Awesome Lyrics That I Think, One Day, I Could Have Come Up With On My Own. (I Think.)

The most unusual thing happened to me last week. I was buying tickets for a concert that I’m seeing on Monday. The artist is Bob Schneider. He’s an Austin legend. He’s a songwriter who’s probably going to make linguists come up with a word that goes beyond ‘prolific.’ He’s got a catalog of songs that could one day require its own wing at the music school at U of Texas. And he’s wildly, wildly clever.

At his best, his songs have wordplay that’s reminiscent of early Springsteen, that thesaurus-on-fire kind of flow. If you don’t have lyrics nearby, it might take three or four listens to really hear everything he’s saying.

And last week, when I was listening to one of his songs, I realized that there’s a line he’d come up with that was so good, it made me jealous.

That doesn’t happen too often. Usually, I read something by a great writer or lyricist and realize, That’s out of my league. I’ll have track two of Sgt. Pepper on. The band sings out, “What do you see when you turn out the light?” and Ringo calls back, “I can’t tell you, but I know it’s mine.” And I know I don’t have a line like that in me.

But damn if I wasn’t listening to one of Schneider’s songs — his latest single, titled “40 Dogs” — and realized that he’d slid in a line that I know, I just know I could have thought up one day.

It’s in a verse that’s got this theme of color running through it. It starts:

Well, you’re the color of a burning brook
You’re the color of a sideways look
From an undercover cop in a comic book
You’re the color of a storm in June
You’re the color of the moon
You’re the color of the night
That’s right
Color of a fight
You move me

And then, the killer line:

You’re the color of the colored part of The Wizard of Oz movie.

Damn you, Schneider. The color of the colored part of the Wizard of Oz movie. Just…. wow. A few more years and I might have figured out that line for my own.

Maybe.

Here’s to You, Championship Week. And Here’s To You, Bill Raftery.


This is my favorite week of the year. It has been since I was in fourth grade, and my dad took me to the ACC Tournament for the first time. It was in Greensboro, North Carolina, and we stayed at a two-level drive-in motel with red brick and paint fading off the second-floor guardrails. There was a breakfast place in the parking lot, and I had waffles every day for breakfast, and I sat at the counter with my dad. I was reading a copy of the Wall Street Journal, and the waitress was telling my dad how remarkable it was that a kid was reading a paper as massive as that, and then we went to the games — two the afternoon, then a break, then two more at night, the best eight teams in the ACC and eight of the best in the country playing for a crowd that had given everything to come to Greensboro(1) on a Friday in March, some of them winning lotteries from their schools just to earn the right to pay a few hundred dollars to sit in their seats — and then coming back to our room on the second floor of the motel, and my dad was asking me if I wanted to watch a WAC league game out west, something between Nevada and Hawaii, or maybe Utah, and of course I did, until it was 1 o’clock in the morning and my dad was asleep, and I was still up watching basketball between these two teams, and I couldn’t even tell you which was which, but I knew that I didn’t want to stop watching. Couldn’t stop watching.

I was in fourth grade, a kid at this giant tournament in this tiny town, and it was impossible not to feel like it was all happening, and I was right there for it. I felt very, very big.

I’m lucky enough to have been to three ACC tournaments since then — plus two Missouri Valley Conference tournaments when I was out in school in Columbia, Mo. — but when I’m not at the games in person, I’m watching on TV. And I’m watching all of them: the CAA, the SoCon, the MWC, the WCC. It’s the only week of the year where I can be caught screaming during a Sun Belt game, and any decent fan (or roommate) will understand why. There’s great basketball on all day, every day, for an entire week leading up to Selection Sunday. There’s not a more fun week of the entire year.

Now, there’s nothing quite like the in-person spectacle of the ACC Tournament when the teams are great, but no tournament quite translates to on-the-couch viewing like the Big East Tournament. The games are always played up at Madison Square Garden, for one. The history of tournament is excellent. The crowds — especially for big rivalries, like UConn-Syracuse — are loud, and the Garden just seems to amplify whatever the crowd throws into the game.

But for me, the Big East Tournament is all about two guys: Jay Bilas and Bill Raftery.

They’re two of the color guys on ESPN, and they’re always assigned to the Big East Tournament. Always. The Big East Tournament now goes five days, during which they’ll call nine games. (ESPN, in a sign of mercy, doesn’t make them work all four games on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.) And when a game is good — and Big East Tournament games always are, especially as the weekend draws near — there aren’t many better than Bilas and Raftery.

You don’t listen to a game Bilas and Raftery are calling. You watch it with them.

So this is my way of giving back for all those years of watching Championship Week. Here’s a little audio ditty I put together this morning, full of some of my favorite moments from Raftery, the announcer with enthusiasm that television speakers can’t contain. Thanks for being part of my favorite week of the year, Bill.

One Minute of Onions by earlyonions

  1. Greensboro!