According to the Poynter Institute's EyeTrack07 survey, Web news readers have a greater attention span than print news readers. The study, which seeks to dispel the myth that claimed the opposite, could catch the eyes of advertisers looking to get the biggest return on their investment.
Conducted by the Poynter Institute, a Florida-based journalism school, the EyeTrack07 survey found that a much larger percentage of story text was read, on average, by online readers than print readers. In total, 77 percent of online readers read their selected text while broadsheet newspaper readers read only about 62 percent of their chosen story and tabloid readers about 57 percent.
"The increasing readership of online news has implications for the editorial department: how to engage folks with stories," said Boyd Peterson, a media analyst at Yankee Group. He pointed to Yahoo's news pages with headlines that add an element of mystery and encourage readers to click by asking questions that the article answers.
How Do You Engage?
Rather than speculating about how readers engage with both mediums, Poynter took a systematic look at general reading patterns with its EyeTrack07 survey. The survey used two small cameras mounted above the eyes of 600 participants to monitor what they read -- and how they read it.
The survey discovered two ways of reading: methodical and scanning. About 75 percent of print readers are methodical while about half of online readers are methodical and the other half are scanners. Despite the method, both groups read about the same volume of story text.
Both groups also demonstrated more understanding of stories that were presented in alternative manners, such as Q&As, timelines, short sidebars, and lists, rather than straight narratives. Subjects paid an average of 15 percent more attention to alternative story forms than to regular story text in print.
What Attracts Readers?
What attracts online and print readers to a story in the first place, though, is different. The survey discovered that large headlines and photos in print were looked at first and got dramatically more attention than smaller ones. But online, readers went for navigation bars and teasers.
What's more, documentary news photos -- photos of real people doing things -- got more attention than staged or studio photographs. And color photos got more attention than black and white. Mugshots got relatively little attention.
Yankee Group's Boyd has been closely tracking the advertising dollar flow into emerging interactive platforms, including the online and mobile channels. Although the total volume is admittedly much larger for print and television, he said, the growth is clearly in favor of the online channel.
"The online channel is a platform that allows for immediacy, and the information you can get there comes with a lot of commentary, particularly through blogs," Boyd said. "Stories with a slower decay rate have more potential value online because readers who are looking for a specific topic can find stories that ran weeks or months ago and also see the ads that are run against them."