Tick-tock: Journalism jargon for a story that recounts events in chronological order, as if accompanied by the soundtrack of a ticking clock.
From my Twitter feed:
— Dan Barry (@DanBarryNYT) May 24, 2013
Word Spy’s Paul McFedries credits the late William Safire with the first mention in print of this usage of “tick-tock.” Safire included it in his book The New Language of Politics: an Anecdotal Dictionary of Catchwords, Slogans, and Political Usage. McFedries gives the book’s publication date as 1972, but Wikipedia and Safire’s New York Times obituary—he died in 2009—give it as 1968.
Here’s Safire’s definition of “tick-tock”:
TICK-TOCK journalists argot for story listing chronology leading up to a major announcement or event. ... A tick-tock (the metaphor, obviously, of a clock moving toward a fateful hour) is often written with boldface dates indicating significant meetings or preliminary events, and is more reportorial than a “think piece” or "thumbsucker”…