THE PROMISE OF PACING
A comparative study of four newscasts
By Sam Bradley and Deborah Potter
It’s the TV producer’s holy grail—a newscast
that keeps viewers tuned in and provides news they can understand
and remember. Many producers believe that pacing is the key to a
successful newscast. But what does pacing really mean, how can you
achieve it, and how can you be sure it will pay off?
Preliminary results from a new research study suggest that producers
who follow a few basic pacing rules can produce newscasts that will
hold and inform their viewers.
The study conducted at Indiana University's Institute for Communication
Research compared four news programs, each about 15 minutes in length.
The newscasts, from four different stations in the same market,
were manipulated at NewsLab so they differed significantly on two
measurements of pacing: story length and edit speed. One newscast
had longer stories, and a medium edit pace; the second had longer
stories and a fast edit pace; the third had shorter stories and
a medium edit pace; the fourth had shorter stories and a fast edit
Participants in the study were told they could watch any of the
four newscasts running simultaneously, and could change channels
according to their preferences using a remote control. While they
watched, a computer kept track of their channel changes. After the
screening, participants evaluated each of the newscasts they saw
on seven rating scales as to whether the newscast was believable,
engaging, enjoyable, informative, important, interesting and understandable.
Participants then were tested to find out what they remembered from
When the study was conducted with younger viewers, between 18 and
22 years old, there were significant differences in how they rated
the newscasts. These viewers preferred the faster paced newscasts,
which might have been predicted, but perhaps surprisingly, they
also gave high marks to the newscasts with longer stories. Older
viewers, between 25 and 81, showed no preference among the newscasts.
Story length and edit pace also affected what participants remembered
from each of the newscasts. Younger viewers retained the most information
from newscasts with longer stories told at a quicker pace, and shorter
stories told at a slower pace. Again, this made almost no difference
to older viewers.
What’s perhaps most interesting is the difference between
the two groups when it comes to channel changing. Younger viewers
spent more time watching newscasts that were consistent in pacing.
That is, they stayed longer on the newscast with short stories and
fast edits and the newscast with long stories and slower edits.
But older viewers did the opposite. While the results were not statistically
significant, the older viewers seemed to prefer the newscasts with
more variety, either using long stories and fast edits, or short
stories and slow edits.
Researchers noted a clear pattern in viewers’ memories for
information just before and just after they changed channels. Both
older and younger viewers remembered less information from stories
they watched just before they hit the remote control. In effect,
viewers disconnected from the news content as they lost interest
and couldn’t remember what they saw. After they changed the
channel, they re-engaged and their performance on memory tests improved.
Results from this multi-faceted study are still being analyzed,
but what’s been learned so far has implications for newsrooms
seeking to hold viewers’ attention while helping them remember
what they’ve seen. Pacing and story length seemed to have
little influence over older viewers’ preferences and memories.
Younger viewers, on the other hand, both preferred and remembered
more information from the newscast with longer stories told at a
quicker pace. The results suggest that this kind of newscast could
hold younger viewers without alienating the core group of older
viewers who make up the loyal local news audience.
1. Sam Bradley is a doctoral student in mass communication
and cognitive science at Indiana University. He is also a former
newspaper reporter and editor. Contact him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
2. Deborah Potter is executive director of NewsLab
and a former CBS and CNN correspondent. Contact her by email at