Surprise: Study Finds Online Users Finish More Stories Than Print Readers

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By: Joe Strupp

In a surprise finding, online readers finish news stories more often than those who read in print, according to the Poynter Institute?s Eyetrack study released Wednesday at the American Society of Newspaper Editors conference here.

When readers chose to read an online story, they usually read an average of 77% of the story, compared to 62% in broadsheets and 57% in tabloids.

The survey, in which 600 newspaper readers from six different newspapers were studied, utilized electronic eyetracking equipment that readers wore while they read broadsheet, tabloid and online editions of newspapers. The research, conducted last year, focused on 100 readers from each newspaper.

The study looked at two tabloids, the Rocky Mountain News and Philadelphia Daily News; two broadsheets, the St. Petersburg Times and The Star-Tribune of Minneapolis; and two newspaper Web sites, at the Times and Star-Tribune.

Readers spent 15 minutes during each reading session over a 30-day period, according to the report. ?This is a very large scale study and this is hard data,? said Sara Quinn, a Poynter researcher. ?We were amazed by these numbers.?

Among the findings — that more text was read online than in print.

In addition, nearly two-thirds of online readers read all of the text of a particular story once they began to read it, the survey revealed. In print, 68% of tabloid readers continued reading a specific story through the jump to another page, while 59% did so in broadsheet reading.

The research also found that 75% of print readers are methodical in their reading, which means they start reading a page at a particular story and work their way through each story. Just 25% of print readers are scanners, who scan the entire page first, then choose a story to read.

Online, however, about half of readers are methodical, while the other half scan, the report found. The survey also revealed that large headlines and fewer, large photos attracted more eyes than smaller images in print. But online, readers were drawn more to navigation bars and teasers.

Findings also revealed that news event photos received more attention than staged or studio images, while color got more interest than black and white.

Research subjects also were quizzed about what they learned from a story, revealing that readers could answer more questions about a story when it included ?alternative story forms,? such as Q&A?s, timelines, graphics, short sidebars, and lists.

TESTING: Did you get this far in this story?

For more information on the findings and visual elements of the Poynter report, go to www.poynter.org.

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