The Cable Crawlers

The cable news channels, in their drive to feed the insatiable 24/7 monster, fill their screens - surrounding the central news story -- with an array of other features displayed in dazzling, but sometimes distracting graphics. The visual inclusions (which often become incursions) include all or some of these elements: time, weather, sports scores, stock reports, captions, program promotion, and logos.

One constant element common to all these channels is the crawl, the running banner of news blurbs that streams across the bottom of the screen like a ticker tape. The feature had its origins in the running headlines that wrapped around the historic New York Times building on Times Square. The newspaper has long since moved its offices out of the area, but the crawling headlines have spawned countless clones that live on in many other Times Square buildings that make up the tourist spectacle that is Broadway.

On the cable channels, the crawlers follow the way we read text in Western cultures: they enter from the right, travel across the screen, and disappear on the left. However, CNN has recently changed its format. No longer does their text crawl; instead it appears as a short single blurb of white text that rolls up into a black slot across the bottom of the screen, and then rolls out to the top of the slot, replaced by the next blurb. Because viewers can take in an entire blurb in one glance rather than having to follow the text in constant motion, the difference is easier on their eyes.

See for yourself. Look at the ticker tape crawls on CNBC, MSNBC, and Fox News, and then look at new CNN style.

Then think about how your audiences react to your graphics.