The Lifespan of News Stories

Where does interest in stories originate, and how do stories spread?

Examining where searches occur can reveal regional differences in event interest. News stories for natural catastrophes tend to attract the highest interest from the places most affected. For example, the greatest concentration of searches for Hurricane Florence came from regions along the eastern seaboard directly in its path. Events that influence the whole country, like the Midterm elections in November 2018, exhibit more uniform search interest across the entire United States.

The shapes of the plots can tells us more about the nature of attention to the topic. The duration of news events is dependent on the speed at which an event develops, and whether or not its outcome was expected. The North Korea summit, for example, was in the news in the lead up to the event, and continued to be reported on afterwards, producing a symmetrical interest plot. An event like July’s blood moon, by contrast, was rarely mentioned after the fact, resulting in a leftward skew in the plot. An unexpected event, on the other hand, like the death of Anthony Bourdain, can yield a rightward skew in the plot as the public continues to process unanticipated information. Lastly, some events can even produce multiple peaks, like the government shutdown of January 2018 that was followed by the threat of a second shutdown in early February, resulting in a bimodal search interest plot.


This reflects a news event that was anticipated ahead of time, and continued to capture interest afterwards, like the North Korea Summit.

Skewed left

This is an anticipated or ongoing event that ended with a simple conclusion, like July’s blood moon.

Skewed right

This reflects a sudden, and unexpected news event, like the Missouri Duck Boat tragedy.


This is an important event that later spawned a secondary reaction or addition, like the government shutdown in January 2018 that was followed by the threat of a second shutdown in early February.