What are the differences in reading news in print and online?
Journalists assume a lot about how people read news in print and online. Eyetracking research can test some of those assumptions by tracking readers’ eye movements, comparing reading behavior and analyzing the implications. That’s what Poynter’s EyeTrack07 project did.
We used eyetracking equipment to give us a precise account of how 582 people in four U.S. cities viewed their hometown newspapers and Web sites. Four organizations partnered with us, enabling participants to view two broadsheets (the St. Petersburg Times and Minneapolis Star Tribune), two tabloids (the Philadelphia Daily News and Rocky Mountain News), and two Web sites (sptimes.com and startribune.com).
Each news organization recruited research participants, who were screened to provide diversity in age, gender and number of days a week they read the paper in print or online. The research was conducted over a five-day period at each location, from July through November 2006.
Readers were asked not to read the newspaper in print or online on the day they were studied. Upon arrival, they were told to read the newspaper or Web site as they normally would. We told them they would be with us for 90 minutes, but we did not tell them how long they had to read. To limit data collection and ensure consistency across readers, participants were all asked to stop reading after 15 minutes.
Eyetracking equipment was used to observe participants while they read. Each person wore eyetracking glasses that contained two small cameras -- one that recorded eye movement and another that recorded where the reader looked. These recordings were combined to create a video that showed each participant’s eye movement. The same eyetracking equipment was used for both print and online reading.
The overall objective of the research was to focus on differences and similarities in print and online reading. How do print and online readers navigate through the paper or Web site? Do people behave differently when reading broadsheets and tabloids? Are headlines, photos, teasers, briefs and ads viewed differently? And the big question on everyone’s mind: How much do people read?
To pursue our research questions, we made an exhaustive list of more than 300 specific elements, including headlines, photos, briefs, podcasts, blogs and teasers so that we could determine the amount of visual attention each received. These codes were attached to elements in the papers and Web sites.
We also wanted to learn how much readers remember. To do that, we developed a set of three print and three online prototypes for a second phase of the testing. Each prototype presented the same story in a different way. Individual participants read only one prototype. Then, participants were given a questionnaire about the information presented in the prototype stories. Answers were recorded and analyzed to determine reader recall. Participants were also asked a series of questions about their attitudes toward the version they read. In the same computer questionnaire, they were asked about their overall reading habits and for basic demographic information.
When data collection was completed, researchers and students from the University of Florida watched each video and recorded where people looked as they made their way through the news. They counted the number of times eye stopped on each coded element. Mediamark Research Inc. analyzed the data and collaborated in the design of the study.
This is by far the largest study Poynter has done to understand how people read, and to our knowledge, the largest eyetracking effort anyone has undertaken. The 582 reading session recordings yielded more than 102,000 eye stops to be coded and analyzed— an extraordinarily robust data set.
A note from
Dr. Mario Garcia
“If you have a good story, they will read it, and they will go very deep into the story.”
“Story forms have been a big buzz word in our newsroom for a couple of years, but this is some of the first research that ... reinforces that people do spend more time with them and pay attention to them and also are getting a lot out of them.”
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