Print or online?

THE inexorable online-versus-print debate got a surprising twist last week. Online readers finish news stories more often than those who read in print, according to a study by the US-based Poynter Institute.

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Published: Sat 31 Mar 2007, 9:15 AM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 12:58 AM

In the survey, conducted last year, 600 participants were divided equally among broadsheets, tabloids, and online editions of newspapers. Readers spent 15 minutes during each session over a 30-day period, wearing electronic eye-tracking equipment.

When readers chose the online version, they usually read an average of 77 per cent of the story, compared to 62 per cent in broadsheets and 57 per cent in tabloids. The researchers also found 75 per cent of print readers to be methodical, reading a page at a particular story and working their way through. Only a quarter of print readers scanned the entire page before choosing a story. Online readers, however, were evenly divided. The Poynter researchers found that large headlines and fewer large photos attracted more eyes than smaller images in print. Online readers, for their part, were drawn more to navigation bars and teasers.

Of late, the nature of the debate has evolved. Fewer people than, say, five years ago seem prepared to pronounce print dead. The steady decline in newspaper readership over the past decade has levelled off because of readership of newspapers online, separate surveys have shown. People who go online for news generally tend to cite convenience and speed. Most people, on the other hand, still find it more relaxing to read newspapers than to get information on the radio, TV or the Internet. Amid these diverse platforms, people are spending a little over an hour in a given day keeping up on the news – about the same time they did a decade ago.

If the history of mass media is any guide, all formats are likely to coexist, especially amid their growing interoperability. For now, though, the Poynter Institute’s findings have given content creators as well as their commercial counterparts a fresh lead to pursue.

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