The cable news ticker, viewer comprehension and information overload: less is more
On September 11, 2001, cable television news outlets began presenting viewers with a continuous news ticker, or crawl,on the bottom portion of the television screen, a feature that continues to be employed today. This study, the most comprehensive look at the news ticker to date, presents a three-pronged approach to understanding the news ticker and its effects on viewer comprehension and retention of information delivered in the main story (i.e., the upper, non-ticker, portion of the television screen). The study's main finding, derived from a viewer comprehension experiment, is that the presence of the news ticker is significantly negatively correlated with viewer comprehension of main story information. Additionally, a content analysis finds that while there are differences between the news tickers of CNN, Fox News Channel and MSNBC, these cable news outlets most often present a ticker featuring information that is unrelated to the main story. Results from a cable news viewer uses and gratifications survey suggest that most viewers watch cable news in order to become better informed, however experimental results indicate that this goal is being achieved at very low levels, with the news ticker worsening such a situation. The study interprets these findings through the lens of information overload theory, which posits that an individual presented with a large amount of disparate information at one time will have cognitive difficulties comprehending and retaining specific pieces of the information set.
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