the present

An eye-tracking Poynter study shows that online readers are drawn to text first vs. pictures and graphics, unlike newspaper readers.
Local news
proves a hit

Study shows that local stories are the most popular element on newspaper websites.

A news alert

Want to know what news is online before it's online? One newspaper's idea could catch on.

the stories
Online reading similar to scanning print

The smorgasbord of information and images on websites led the Poynter Institute of Media Studies to bring back its eye-tracking equipment to find out what users look at when scanning and reading online newspapers.

Poynter teamed up with Stanford University to learn more about how people read news online. Marion Lewenstein, a professor at Stanford University, videotaped San Francisco Bay-area residents as they read online news in their homes in 1996. In 1998, she teamed with a group from the Poynter to use their eye-tracking technology to more closely examine readers' behavior.

They recorded 67 people, half in Chicago and half in St. Petersburg, Fla. All the subjects read news online at least three times a week.

Their findings released in January 2001 show that readers are attracted to the top stories of the day and skim a wide range of stories, often settling on one to read because a headline or brief summary attracted them. These findings are similar to how people read newspapers.

However, their findings also showed that readers were drawn to the text first over pictures and graphics, unlike newspaper readers. Only 22 percent of people's first glances online included artwork and 21 percent looked at no artwork at all during the session, according to the study.

The Stanford Poynter Project study also showed that when readers chose a story by clicking on a headline or summary, they read about 75 percent of it, compared to the 25 percent they usually read in print newspapers.

Lewenstein said, "I think many, many reporters assume people are just skimming around and not paying that much attention. They should be thinking about the tact that people ... are serious about getting news."

But Carole Rich, author of "Writing and Reporting News: A Coaching Method" and "Creating Online Media: A guide to research, writing and design on the Internet" questions that finding. "People don't want to read long treatises on the Web" said Rich, who added that the Stanford Poynter Project's finding that people read 75 percent of a story regardless of length "doesn't sound normal to me."

Extra. Extra. Read all about it, but later

Tom Cekay, the interactive news editor, at the Chicago Tribune, says he's been toying with the idea of morning "alert" emails that tell subscribers what stories will be posted during the day on his site.

In an April 17, 2000 Editor & Publisher article, he uses the example of a press conference by the mayor, a Cubs game, an expected court verdict, etc. as a budget for the day. His purpose for "alert" emails: to remind people of the best way to get breaking news.

The Independent Florida Alligator had a similar feature five years ago with an Alligator fax that listed the stories in the print edition for that day's paper. However, because of the time involved in sending the faxes, the Alligator fax had a short existence.

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