Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Tracking eyes in print and in online (2)

The Eyetrack07 report does not only tell something about the attention span of the reader when reading a newspaper online or print; eye tracking is also pointing to attention catchers. How can journalists catch and keep the attention of the reader. With almost 600 videotapes almost 600 videotapes of readers reading in print and online the researchers can look at headlines, composition of articles and the use of illustrations. The researchers can take a closer look to make articles more engaging.

The prototype portion of the study showed the value of alternative story forms as they related to comprehension and retention of information such as Questions and answers (Q&A), a timeline, a short sidebar or a list. The respondents were asked to read one of six different versions of a story about the spread of bird flu. Three versions were print (see illustration) and three were online. Each included identical information -- fact for fact -- but the story structure differed. At the end of the test, the respondents were quizzed about the story in an exit interview. In both the print and online, subjects who answered the most questions correctly had read the version of the story with the most alternative structure -- no traditional narrative. On average, we saw 15 percent more visual attention to alternative or "unconventional" text than to regular text. In broadsheet, this number rises to 30 percent.

This is really interesting for it means that the regular text with the lead and the conventional when, how, by who paragraphs, of which a story usually is made up does not draw a great deal amount of visual attention any longer. People want to be caught by alternative structures. It will mean that new narrative forms will have to be developed and taught.

In my mind the question comes up, whether the attention catcher by alternative narrative structures is the result of people being influenced by television and internet presentations of the news.

Photographs have been an attention getter for long. Printed newspaper need to have photographs on the front page these days. Logically eye tracking the photographs was part of the study. One close part of the study was to show the respondents 20 large photos available to be seen and 100 small photos. Proportionally large photos generated more attention, compared to small photos. As such there was no difference with the results in the first eye track study in 1991. Not only large photographs, but also large headlines got dramatically more attention than smaller headlines and photos. In fact, they were the first points of entry in print.
But there is more to photographs. Colour photos draw dramatic attention in broadsheet, compared to black and white photos. Live, documentary news photos -- photos of real people doing things in real time -- got more attention than staged photos. Studio or staged photos received little attention. And mug shots got relatively little attention in any format.From these first findings it looks like editorial staffs will have to develop a new way telling stories, structuring story material and presentation in print in order to keep the attention of their readers.

But the study showed also that reading online stories is a different game involving navigation bars, teasers and story lists that get primary attention. And then it is only the reader behind the screen. For there are still other points of research such as news delivery on large format screens, in high definition, on telephones and even smaller screens. Also elements of television news, like text that moves across the bottom of the screen, or animated graphics need close study. And searcheability online needs major attention (as I have indicated before we need better search engines than Google and Yahoo).

Blog Posting Number: 721

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