The death of Nelson Mandela, and the speeding cycle of news

At around 5:00 EST on Thursday, my news feed on Facebook filled up about the same topic.

Nelson Mandela had passed away.

For the next hour or so, friends shared the news of the civil rights leader’s passing; several of them posted a favorite quote or moment from Mandela’s life.

And then, a few hours later, my news feed was virtually Mandela-free.

Everybody seemed to have moved on — mostly to Carrie Underwood and NBC’s live production of The Sound of Music. Nelson Mandela may not have been the last thing on people’s minds, but, it seemed, he was no longer the first.

The next morning, Mandela was no longer the top story when I checked various news updates and home pages.

At that moment, I wondered: Does the news world — heck, the world itself — move too quickly? I was not sure, but I found it hard to believe that the death of an international legend could so swiftly lose its power and impact.

But then, something else arrived.


Stories with perspective.

Stories like the pieces I mentioned in my “3 Great Stories” column earlier this week. Stories like the long-form obituaries and personal memories that perhaps got lost in the shuffle when they were initially released.

Gradually these stories began to pop up in my news feed. When people found time to digest the news of Mandela’s passing, they were greeted by terrific works of journalism.

And, at least in my limited circle, they shared those articles.

Not every article was a puff piece, either. Some were challenging. Some were provocative. Some were contrary to popular thought.

This was a refreshing sight. Friends were not just acknowledging Mandela’s death; they were using it as a springboard for their own growth and communal discussion.

By Friday evening, I had contributed my own piece to the discussion: a day-after look at the mourning and commemorating taking place in my home city of Atlanta, which came to a standstill when Mandela first visited in 1990.

In the end, I feel mixed emotions. I still believe the Mandela story simply flew by, acknowledged but under-appreciated on a grander scale. This was one of the most mesmerizing global figures of the past century. News outlets greeted his passing with tributes, essays, obituaries, and special reports. The media flooded our content-hungry society with as much news as they could provide … and yet, so little of that news seemed to stick.

I know that complaining about the speed of news these days is akin to swatting at air. But I cannot help but wonder how journalists and storytellers should respond to such speed. The storyteller and story consumer in me greatly appreciated all the Mandela-related content that graced my computer screen after his death.

But why did that content seem to disappear so quickly after it first arrived?

I am left with an optimistic — and long-range — take. Nelson Mandela will undoubtedly remain an enduring figure long after his death, just as he was in the years before it. And whenever people choose to learn more about this man, they will search the Internet and find a plethora of in-depth, thorough, powerful pieces of journalism.

And in those moments, we storytellers will be doing our jobs — and fulfilling our promise.


Matt Pearl is the author of the Telling the Story blog and podcast. Your thoughts are greatly appreciated; feel free to comment below or e-mail Matt at

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