Friday, March 08, 2013

Online News Consumers Are Better Readers

I could hardly believe my ears two days ago as I listened to NPR hosts on All Things Considered lead into a story about new online TV shows with this statement:

“Here are some of the new original shows hitting your small screen later this year…”

I agree with promos that it is intelligent programing, but whoever wrote the lead in missed the significance of the story.  I may be eligible for Medicare enrollment this spring and I’m even a cord-cutter, but I still get most of my television programs streamed to a full-size television screen.

It isn’t unusual for headline writers in local newspapers to miss the point of a story, but that detachment is becoming even more apparent now that papers are often delegating copy editing and headline writing to centralized crews located in another state or region of the country entirely.The Poynter Institute

I first became aware of eye tracking when The Poynter Institute published a study using the technique a few months after I arrived in Durham in 1989 to jump-start the community’s marketing arm.  My organization would soon use it to refine advertisements and visitor guide covers.

Poynter found that the majority (53%) of readers of traditional print newspapers back then viewed headlines as the first point of entry followed next by a dominant photo or illustration.  Only a small percentage made it through the text.

Because traditional journalism has called for putting inflammatory information up front and only providing actual perspective much later in the story, detached headlines and inflammatory lead ins are far more influential than reports.

The good news about the dramatic shift to reading newspapers (and even reading NPR) on tablets or smartphones is that Poynter’s subsequent eye tracking studies find that for online readers, navigation and text—not photographs—are the entry points for stories.

Online news consumers read 77% of story text (still not enough to get to the context) compared to only 57%-62% of text read in traditional news papers.  Participants viewed about 75% of articles, far more than in print, especially if the paragraphs are kept short, e.g. five lines max.

Even when adjusted for length of story, “online readers still read more text.”  Online readers were also more likely to read stories from start to finish (63%) than traditional print readers (40%.)  Only 36% of tabloid readers read from start to finish.

Another positive for the move of news consumption to online vs. print is that online readers were equally likely to be methodical readers vs. scanners.  As for scanners, even if they make it to text, they are more likely to jump to photos and headlines and then not return.

Congratulations if you made it to the end of this essay!


Don Moffitt said...

But are the tracking statistics for the same stories (same content and length)? My concern is that online content is often substantially less than what I find in traditional print... are more people reading more words in more stories, but it's less substantive content?

Reyn said...

Good question but yes it was held constant for length and content.