Tag Archives: media

The Crawl

I already know what you’re going to say. If it bothers you so much, why not stop watching TV news altogether!

What bothers me (in addition to the content of the news or lack thereof) is the incessant crawl of headlines at the bottom of the screen. Sometimes there are two crawls, going at different speeds… partial headlines on the bottom; financial news on top of that. Then there is the larger banner above the crawls telling you what the anchor is supposedly reporting in case you needed to be reminded because you were too busy reading the crawls. Add to that the inevitable “pop up” of some character, usually from a sitcom or drama, announcing when their program is going to air, and you have one very cluttered screen.

Sometimes I can’t wait for the commercial. At least the perpetual crawl disappears for a few minutes and I find some relief. Sometimes an important headline gets chopped off the moment the commercial appears. If a news crawl is so important, why then does it not continue uninterrupted during the commercial? It’s a naïve question with a simple answer

Advertisers do not want their ads to be sullied with news crawls. They want the entire screen as a canvas upon which they can work their magic. Any ad agency worth their salt knows exactly where to place images and text. For example:

If you want the viewer to remember something previously shown, place the text or image in the upper left of the screen. 

If you are introducing new content, place the text or image in the upper right of the screen. 

To evoke a feeling or emotion, place items in the lower right corner because placing them in the lower left only results in internal dialogue or inner self-talk. 

New sounds and spoken words should come through the right speaker of the TV’s sound system, while remembered sounds, spoken words, and “tape loops” should be heard through the left speaker. 

Eyes focused straight ahead will concentrate on visuals only. 

Eyes focused upwards means you are probably rolling them right now in complete disgust and boredom!

However one rule dominates all of them: A person cannot read and listen at the same time. They may read and hear at the same time, but they cannot fully absorb a message if they are expected to do both.

This was one of the first rules I learned when I was studying for my Masters Degree in Instructional Design. And the most often used example was, ironically, standardized tests, like the SATs. Do you remember them? Let’s travel back to the good old days of being a junior in high school.

You showed up early and took a seat at a desk. When the clock struck the precise time, the proctor said to keep the test in front of you, face down, pencils on your desk, and to do nothing until he/she gave the word. Then the proctor said, “Turn your test over and please read the instructions carefully while I read them to you aloud.”

No, no, no, no, and no! That is a recipe for interfering with learning. Even educators had to be retrained not to do that. Trying to read instructions while listening to someone read them aloud only undermines comprehension. Either one or the other, but not both!

Did none of the news organizations take the same course I took? Did none of them have the slightest exposure to neuro linguistic programming? Or do they intentionally not want you to give your full attention to what the news anchor is saying? I am baffled. But I do know that the news and financial ticker crawls are not educating their audiences properly at a time when a full grasp of what is happening in our world is so critical.

The introduction of the “crawl” is relatively new. No news organizations used this technique before the 11th of September 2001. I quote from Michael Keefe-Feldman’s Master Thesis on journalistic theory.

“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.”

I get my news from any medium I can. That includes network and cable news. Being aware of the principles of neuro linguistic programming helps me to be conscious of the trickery of commercials, and helps prevent the dilution of my comprehension by focusing on just what the news anchor is reporting. Keeping such focus is tiring. I hope that someone with clout in the media will read this article and return to the days when an anchor had our full attention because there were no visual or auditory distractions.

Let’s face it. Between the Internet, television, smart phones, tablets, print news and ads, billboards, etc., we are in a world of information overload. We are bombarded with sounds, images, and words. The incessant cable news ticker only interferes with viewer comprehension at a time when we need as educated an electorate as possible, not an electorate so overloaded with information that they simply zone out.

When it comes to keeping a viewer’s attention, the only conclusion I can reach is: Less Is More!


The Unapologetic Hippie