The Poynter Institute, a non-profit journalism school in St. Petersburg, Fla., hosted a live chat Thursday discussing its new research into tablet-based journalism.
The organization’s findings, which were first released in mid-October, delved into the reading habits of people who use tablets to get the news. Its researchers went through the process of using eye-tracking equipment to analyze how 36 readers interacted with stories on their iPads, focusing on two distinct age groups: 18- to 28-year olds, referred to as “digital natives,” and 45- to 55-year olds, or “printnets.”
Wednesday’s live chat, titled “What journalists need to know about designing & crafting stories on tablets,” was largely a complement to the research.
Poynter faculty member Sara Quinn and Northwestern University assistant professor Jeremy Gilbert answered users’ questions about the application of these results, and, not surprisingly, about three-fourths of the audience polled as full-time journalists.
Mallary Tenore, managing editor of Poynter’s website, moderated the one-hour Q&A session and opened with a few inquiries of her own before delegating the podium elsewhere. One of the first things she asked was which discoveries are most relevant to people who develop stories on tablets.
“We found that people read for an average of 98.3 seconds on the first story they chose,” Quinn responded. “Of the people who did not finish reading a story, they read for an average of 78.3 seconds before leaving the story entirely.”
While these numbers may seem insignificant to readers, they’re crucial to a reporter’s story-telling speed, largely dictating how quickly he or she should get to the point. Quinn explained that, when dealing with long-form work, content creators can insert a pull-out quote from “someone who has yet to appear in the story” in order to energize the reader.
Many of the 36 people tested were seen fixating on a single story as many as three times before deciding to read it. Both Quinn and Gilbert attribute this observation to readers attempting at forming an emotional bond between themselves and the stories they read.
“Tablets, like … printed news, evoke a different emotional response than digital news experiences on laptops or desktops,” Gilbert wrote. “It might be that the mouse or trackpad create emotional and physical distance from what users are reading.”
Quinn added that touching and swiping the screen can heighten readers’ senses and provide them with the satisfied feeling of having absorbed a news edition completely.
“In that way,” she wrote, “tablets seem reminiscent of print.”
One member of the audience, a woman named Erin, asked if the readers mentioned whether they prefer to use different devices for different stories.
“You could imagine mobile devices handling more breaking news and tablets being the place for longer form stories,” Gilbert responded. “But we don't have the data to support that assertion — yet.”
For now, the Poynter Institute plans to continue training professional journalists through its online and in-person courses. The institute will host a “Tablet Storytelling” course in early March for potential attendees are expected to apply by Jan. 28. Faculty will discuss how to incorporate editorial and advertising content in tablet for the best results.
“The satisfaction level is so important,” Quinn concludes. “If they are satisfied with an experience, chances are they will come back to you for more.”
You can see a replay of the Q&A here.