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ENGL 1102 (Erben)

Video on the Cycle of Information

As you reflect on the media coverage of your current topic, be mindful of something called the Information Cycle.  

The information cycle is the media coverage of a newsworthy event. Knowing when information gets published in response to an event or issue helps you evaluate your sources;  often when something is published soon after an event occurs, the coverage of that event is incomplete or even incorrect.

This image and the video below are from the University of Illinois, and will give you an idea of the kinds of information produced at certain time periods after an event has occured:

Example: The Sandy Hook Shooting

Let's work out an example of how the cycle of information works with a recent case:

The shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary occured on December 14, 2012

The day the event occured, the story was covered by media outlets that could release information quickly: television, internet, and radio

This information:

  • Is primarily provided through up-to-the-minute resources like broadcast news, Internet news sites, and news radio programs.
  • Is quick, generally not detailed, and regularly updated.
  • Explains the who, what, when, and where of an event.
  • Can, on occassion, be inaccurate.
  • Is written by authors who are primarily journalists.
  • Is intended for a general audience.

The day after the event occured, the story was picked up by newspapers, which still have a quick turn-around (but slower than the up-to-the-minute coverage that tv, radio, and the internet can provide.

  • Is longer as newspaper articles begin to apply a chronology to an event and explain why the event occurred.
  • Is more factual and provides a deeper investigation into the immediate context of events.
  • Includes quotes from government officials and experts.
  • May include statistics, photographs, and editorial coverage.
  • Can include local perspectives on a story.
  • Is written by authors who are primarily journalists.
  • Is intended for a general audience.

How complete is the information at this point? How accurate would your discussion of this incident be if you only used information published in the first days after the incident? 

In the weeks that followed the event, the story was picked up by a number of blogs, and discussed in popular and news magazines

  • Is contained in long form stories. Weekly magazines begin to discuss the impact of an event on society, culture, and public policy.
  • Includes detailed analysis of events, interviews, as well as opinions and analysis.
  • Offers perspectives on an event from particular groups or geared towards specific audiences.
  • While often factual, information can reflect the editorial bias of a publication.
  • Is written by a range of authors, from professional journalists, to essayists, to commentary by scholars or experts in the field.
  • Is intended for a general audience or specific nonprofessional groups.

How complete is the information at this point?

A month after the event, the story makes national headlines. What kind of media sources are covering this now?

More importantly, what kind of media or information sources are NOT yet covering this story?

Because this story is still relatively recent, you will more than likely not find books, government reports, or reference material on it because all of those information sources take time to be written and published. Also consider that this story is still evolving, and we are learning more about it every day--if a book WAS published about this, it would be incomplete, and, therefore, a bad resource for our academic work.