Do people really spend so little time reading news online?

From the December/January 2008 edition of the American Journalism Review:

Newspaper Web sites are attracting lots of visitors, but aren’t keeping them around for long. The typical visitor to nytimes.com, which attracts more than 10 percent of the entire newspaper industry’s traffic online, spent an average of just 34 minutes and 53 seconds browsing its richly detailed offerings in October. That’s 34 minutes and 53 seconds per month, or about 68 seconds per day online. Slim as that is, it’s actually about three times longer than the average of the next nine largest newspaper sites.

The recent Reuters report What’s Happening to our News? gives similar figures for a discrepancy between time spent reading the news online and in print, this time in Europe:

…visitors to the leading UK newspaper websites (as measured by overall traffic) typically only spend a few minutes each day perusing the content. The Daily Mail leads the pack, with an average daily visit of only 8.7 minutes; followed by the Guardian (5.4 minutes), News of the World (3.7 minutes), The Sun (3.7 minutes) and The Times (3.3 minutes).In contrast, McKinsey estimates that, on average, consumers spend roughly eight times longer reading a physical newspaper, compared to the equivalent time they spend at a news-paper website.

In other words, someone who reads the Daily Mail online spends 8.7 minutes doing so, but a reader with a physical copy of the newspaper spends 69.6 minutes at it. Continue reading →

What’s happening to our news?

The Reuters Institute is shortly to publish a wide-ranging report called What’s Happening to our News? It’s based on interviews with 70 significant players in the British media and quantitive data from a range of sources.  The report’s author, Andrew Currah, wrote a piece for Monday’s Guardian summarising the main research findings. First:

News publishers have always had some degree of consumer feedback – but never at the range, intensity and speed that the web makes possible.

He concludes that,

…as newsrooms become more digitally integrated, the flow of data from the web will be faster, more detailed and much harder to ignore. It will put pressure on editors and executives to review the popularity and revenue performance of content, the value of specific journalists and the overall allocation of resources. Already, in the quest for digital success, publishers are being nudged to depart from well-established brand and editorial values. This shift is contributing to the development of a softer and more populist news agenda in the UK, with preference given to topics seen as effective generators of traffic, such as celebrity, entertainment and sport.

To the main report, to find the evidence for this shift.  Unfortunately, the report does not contain any quantitive data on the softening of the news agenda in the UK.  On page 88 there is the assertion: Continue reading →

Funding the future

Thought provoking and interesting piece from Ethan Zuckerman on future funding for journalism.  He points out that advertising has always been massively overpriced in print, and now that vendors can get good stats on how effective their ads are, they’re not willing to shell out quite so much anymore.  He quotes an ex-ad exec called Joshua Jeffryes:

When I worked in Advertising the ineffectiveness of advertising was hardly a secret. But customers couldn’t measure the effectiveness of ads. So they paid and continue to pay ridiculous prices for them.

Online ads, on the other hand, are measurable. They work just as well, if not better, than print, television, etc., the difference is that for the first time ad customers know exactly how ineffective they are.

The first point being something I suppose we all knew intuitively but, like our intuitions about the irrationality of the banking system, didn’t allow into conscious awareness (the somebody knows what’s going on, surely, impulse).  The second point being a thing journalists and publishers are going to have to worry about.  Says Zuckerman: Continue reading →

hospital drip

Journalism in absentia: Reporting medical research in the mainstream media

A version of this piece ran in the first edition of the Michael Smith-edited reboot of Village Magazine in December 2008. 

A common rumour concerning the contemporary print media is that it is heavily reliant on the public relations industry to supply it with story ideas. The mass austerity drives of newspapers all over the world from the 1990’s onwards; brought on by declining sales and advertising revenue, led to massive staff cutbacks, even as newspapers increased their pagination. In 2006, a group of researchers at Cardiff University set out to discover if the rumours of a newspaper industry in hock to its public relations cousin were true. Their findings, originally published in 2006 but brought to wide public attention in Nick Davies’s 2008 book Flat Earth News, showed that they were: of the 2,207 stories they analysed, they found that less than half of them were entirely independent of traceable PR.

The reliance of the media on press releases and press officers to give them both story ideas, and, too often, the wording of a story too is explained in one way by the the increased pressures on ever smaller numbers of journalists to fill an ever larger news hole, in less time than ever before. A second contributing factor is the increased popularity of lifestyle supplements. These are easy and cheap to produce, consisting as they do of pages of thinly-veiled advertorial and news of celebrity exploits, both of which categories come pre-packaged in press releases from companies and agents eager to see their brand promoted. Continue reading →