News and novelty

You probably don’t need to be a political junkie to notice one of the peculiarities of 2024 campaign coverage. One of the candidates routinely rants about Hannibal Lecter, windmills, water pressure, and, mostly recently, whether it would be better to be electrocuted by an electric boat battery or eaten by a shark. The other candidate is the subject of endless and often contrived stories about how his age is a liability.

How do we explain this? It’s tempting, and who knows, maybe even correct, to speculate that some people in the news media, or the people who own the news media, just want Trump to win.

Let me talk about another factor that almost certainly comes into play. For some time now, the media has been slowly changing focus from covering the news to chasing novelty.

Novelty has, of course, always been an element of the news. Both words come from the same root, with news originally representing the noun form of new—a new development—then coming to refer to “the report or account of recent (esp. important or interesting) events or occurrences,” before coming to refer to published or broadcast reports of events.

Many of us grew up with the idea of the news as an account of important events—local, national, and global. The debut of the 24-hour television news channel marked a key development in the slow deterioration in that concept. More than previous forms of media, the 24-hour news cycle demanded novelty, for the simple reason that people would turn off the TV if it was just repeating the same information over and over again. The Internet and click-chasing culture deepened structural incentives to constantly focus on novelty over news value. 

Trump’s unhinged mental state is certainly news, but it’s definitely not novel. With the exception of the occasional new bit—such as the shark speech—it’s the same stuff over and over again. The fact that is rarely changes is itself newsworthy, but it’s not novel. The click-chasers don’t see it as fruitful. They cover it—after all, that’s how we know about it—but they won’t weight it appropriately. By weight, I mean things like placement on pages and the tone of the headlines, and the number of stories written.

To be fair, some of this is down to us, the click-granters. We are chasing novelty ourselves; we give it our clicks. We get understandably weary of reading the latest atrocity. We give the Biden age and acuity stories our clicks, if only to see for ourselves what a different world they are from Trump’s acuity issues.

Unfortunately, it’s not just about the candidates’ ages and/or sanities. Trump’s increasingly fascistic plans and platforms are also less than novel. The click-chasers do a slightly better job of covering this, but they tend to weight the fascism stories equally with “voters unenthusiastic about Biden.”

As I alluded to at the top, there are a lot of reasons they might do this. And it’s also a function of Trump’s flood-the-zone political playbook. Trump’s plans for programmatic cruelty against immigrants and non-White people and his plans to punish his political enemies are not novel. They’re “old news.”

But if we don’t figure out how to deal with this problem, and fast, we will have plenty of novelty on our news feeds in 2025. The curse of living in interesting times.


J.M. Berger is a writer and researcher focused on extremism as a Senior Research Fellow for the Center on Terrorism, Extremism, and Counterterrorism (CTEC) at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies (MIIS). Views expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and beliefs of CTEC or MIIS. 

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