Editors’ Takes on EyeTrack07:Reinforcement and Some Surprises
7. Adjusting resources Listen
8. Focus on content Listen
9. Online ads Listen
10. Branding Listen
11. User media consumption Listen
12. Changes because of EyeTrack Listen
13. Redesigning Listen
14. EyeTrack advantage?Listen
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"EyeTrack07: The Myth of Short Attention Spans," by Rick Edmonds
Report from National Public Radio's "Marketplace" on EyeTrack07
Story from Editor & Publisher
At the close of the first day of a three-day Poynter conference on EyeTrack07 Tuesday, the talk turned from findings to implications. First up were editors of the four participating newspapers. They said the new study of how readers make their way through print editions and Web sites offered both some comfort and some iconoclasm.
There was reinforcement of every journalist's hope -- that readers will stay with a story they have chosen in print. It turns out they'll stay even longer when reading online. The editors were also pleased to hear that the extra work of providing lively, illustrated teasers or telling stories in a graphic package pays off by attracting extra reader attention.
On the other hand, the finding that the 600 readers tested in the study regularly read jumps was unexpected. John Temple, editor and publisher of the Rocky Mountain News in Denver, cut back the use of jumps in a recent redesign. "I've told my staff nobody reads jumps," Temple said with a smile. "I'm just going to be crucified when I get home."
When it comes to advertising, the study dropped a mini-bombshell on the conventional wisdom: With broadsheet ads, bigger might not always be better. As powerful as full-page ads are in broadsheet, an ad between half a page and a full page in size is equally, if not more, powerful.
"There are commercial implications in this," said Paul Tash, editor and CEO of The St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times. The finding suggests taking a second look at the practice of charging more for full-page ads. Similarly, the study showed that readers pay twice as much attention to color ads as they do to black and white ones, but the premium for color is not nearly double.
Tash and Temple were joined by Michael Days, executive editor of the Philadelphia Daily News, and Cory Powell, deputy managing editor of the Star Tribune in Minneapolis. I moderated the session. My colleague Ellyn Angelotti, Poynter's new interactivity editor, has produced a chaptered podcast of the hour-long discussion.
All four editors found parts of the study that reinforced what they have been saying to their staffs. Days explained that the Daily News gets more than 90 percent of its circulation from single-copy sales, making an inviting, exciting front page a business necessity. "I'm getting a sense of some of the other things we can do to get people to pick up the paper," he continued, "People are reading" but they too often balk at paying. (The Daily News has high pass-along readership.)
"I think this shows that bold energetic headlines and energetic photos matter, and I think we need to give that energy to our readers," Tash said. Conceding he has a running debate with some at the Times who are fans of "quiet design," Tash said that on the whole, the paper should be a little "noisy."
The study found relatively light attention to blogs, photo galleries and podcasts, which EyeTrack co-authors Sara Quinn and Pegie Stark Adam speculated could be a result of the scarcity and placement of such features. (Both sites that participated in the study have increased the volume and display of those elements in the six months since the eye tracking was done.)
As discussion switched to the challenge of keeping the print paper strong while aggressively developing online, Temple said he is working constantly to get reporters, editors and photographers to discard the old "doing my assignment" tradition of newspaper work.
"Every person who works at a newspaper should want to be responsible for creating content," he said. "I want more people in my newsroom to feel responsible for content, not just handling other people's work. What can you come up with that will make this a more outstanding newspaper tomorrow?"
Powell was one of several seminar participants who said online development is being held back by rigid and creaky production systems. He also agreed with Tash and Temple that the industry has failed to standardize in order to encourage national advertisers to make purchases across groups of newspapers.
The majority of test subjects were routine readers -- four times a week or more -- and the study did not even try to sample non-readers or very infrequent readers.
I asked if that was a limitation.
Not really, Powell said. Moving up one-day-a-week readers to two times "would be huge," he said. But trying to capture new print readers is tough sledding. "We can re-dress the pig. It's still going to be the pig they don't want to buy."
Tash said determining the reading habits of the most regular readers is highly useful information. Those readers merit a lot of attention, he said, and if papers change too far and too fast, there is a risk of alienating core customers.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article described viewing of ad sizes differently.