R.I.P. CNN News Ticker

By Beacon Staff

At some point last week when I wasn’t looking, the CNN news ticker crawled its last little factoid across the bottom of the TV screen. Many people may have enjoyed that slow, sometimes arcane and typically incomplete stream of “information” that often raised more questions than it answered and simultaneously displayed two stories differing wildly in tone (see above). But to the news ticker I say: Good riddance.

Born during CNN’s on-the-fly coverage of the 9/11 attacks, the ticker developed out of two movements happening within TV news at that time: the need to provide constantly updating information in the wake of the terrorist attacks, and a push to make the 24-hour cable news networks resemble Web sites in their presentation.

Proponents of the ticker and new look put a premium on presenting maximum information in minimal time, while detractors of the ticker, like myself, felt as though it only served to distract viewers, offering tidbits of news without context, and took up valuable space on the screen that was better off devoted to compelling video.

I worked at CNN from 2000-2004, so I must confess to having a rather personal irritation with the news ticker. For about a year I worked as an editorial assistant in Atlanta, answering the main newsroom phone. So when there was a spelling or factual error in a news ticker item, I would have to hunt down the writer who may have written the line some eight hours earlier, and try to get the mistake fixed. It happened a lot, particularly right after the ticker launched in 2001, before it became a more organized duty of the writers.

But my objection to the ticker does not stem from whatever hassles it caused me six or seven years ago. I base my objection on the decisions CNN’s news executives would make during particularly important events to “drop” the ticker. During presidential debates, State of the Union Addresses and other watershed moments, the ticker would go away, presumably to allow viewers to concentrate on the event at hand.

Dropping the ticker during big news events, to me, was a tacit admission that it was, in fact, a distraction and seemed to send a message that the on-air content where the ticker remained was not that important, and didn’t require much attention by the audience. I also noticed how clean and elegant the ticker-free newscasts by the BBC and U.S. broadcast networks looked in contrast.

But that was then, and in subsequent years news on the Internet and cable news have evolved their respective mediums, growing into the areas where they differ and converge. The ticker will be replaced by something called a “flipper,” which displays information relevant to the story being reported on screen, as opposed to the ticker’s new items. It looks sleek, less cluttered and less distracting.

So take care, CNN ticker, you won’t be missed – not by me, anyway. And for those of us who love the ticker, well, it’s still crawling on Fox News and MSNBC.

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