Abstract: Citizens are increasingly informed through online platforms and social media instead of traditional newspapers and media. We therefore aim to unveil the empirical regularities and fundamental mechanisms of the impact of online news on the public. By analyzing data collected from two major news outlets, we gauge the impact of an article through the number of comments received from the readers. While success in most domains follow power-law distributions, we find that article impact follows an exponential distribution, and the impact distribution for news of different categories can be collapsed onto a universal exponential curve. This finding is explained by the lack of rich-get-richer mechanisms that are ubiquitous in other social systems. As a consequence, news articles follow a simple universal dynamics where each article is described by a single fitness parameter. Finally, we find that the appearance of a high-impact article has negligible impact on the dynamics of other articles, indicating that collective attention can "stretch" during events of outstanding relevance.