The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

A month of breaking news alerts, visualized

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It has been quite a week. It was only two weeks ago that the House passed the American Health Care Act, which is simply amazing to consider, given all that’s happened in the interim. Just over the past few days, of course, there’s been a blizzard of important political stories — including a half-dozen major stories Wednesday night alone.

But there’s another factor that probably plays into how deluged we seem to be with news: Every time something happens, major or minor, our phones vibrate with an update — often from multiple outlets.

How often does that happen? The Post has been tracking those alerts from multiple outlets for some time. Save a data error earlier this month, this is what those alerts look like over the past 30 days.

In addition to breaking out the alerts by outlet, we also flagged them as being breaking news or not. Something like a news event occurring or a speech starting counted as breaking news. Analysis or general interest stories didn’t.

Among the 12 outlets we tracked, there were an average of 44 alerts every day, with the largest number — 74 — coming on Wednesday. The runner up was 67 on May 3, the day before the AHCA passed. Most of the alerts on Wednesday were of the breaking news variety. The weekday with the highest density of non-breaking news alerts was Monday, April 24, when nearly a quarter of the alerts were not breaking news.

The outlet with the most alerts over the 30-day period was USA Today, which issued 263 alerts, many of them general interest or sports related. The most judicious outlet was Politico, which alerted 55 times. (The Post issued 93 alerts.) At the bottom of this article is a tool allowing you to flip through the outlets we looked at so you can see how and when they issued alerts.

The first graph above shows two clear patterns. The first is that there are fewer updates on the weekend, as you might expect. The second is that, at a glance, the days with major news stories blend together with those that were relatively calm. The phone push alert is a relatively new phenomenon for media organizations, and the lure of being able to draw a reader’s attention can be hard to resist. That novelty, though, makes it hard to determine if the flurry of alerts is a function of a unique news moment or not. What would alerts have looked like during the Obamacare fight, for example? Similar? More scattered? It’s hard to say.

What we can say, though, is this: If you feel like you’re constantly being barraged by news, it’s because you are.