Young Web Readers Find the News as is Hard to Digest

By June 03, 2008

A research project commissioned by the Associated Press in 2007 has released a 71-page report Monday explaining that today’s internet-consuming youth don’t, as is often supposed, have short attention spans. They’ve simpl

y been assaulted by a barrage of facts and redundant news updates so overwhelming as to leave them, after such excursions through the web, unable to absorb in-depth stories they’d otherwise wish to access.

Baltimore situated Context-Based Research Group (CBRG) monitored the news-reading habits of 18 ethnically diverse women and men from the ages of 18 to 34 living in six urban areas of the world: Philadelphia, Houston, the Silicon Valley and Kansas City within the United States; Brighton, Britain and Hyderabad, India.

A.P. and the self-described ethnographically oriented research firm found it important to review the direction in which young eyes were tending because the demographic was spearheading the exodus from traditional news outlets to those dominating the digital arena.

CBRG anthropologist and co-founder Robbie Blinkoff stated his study showed subjects couldn’t fully appreciate longer pieces because they were constantly faced with, and thus fatigued by, multiple breaking news feeds, tidbits and blurbs.

“Our…analysis identified that consumer’ news diets are out of balance due to the overconsumption [sic.] of facts and headlines,” Blinkoff told CNBC.

Of course, participants didn’t aid their own ability to grant full attention to the information. CRBG observed the group members’ chronic tendencies of glancing at the news while attending to other matters such as email.

CNBC reported their multitasking did not, however, deter them from expressing a general desire for “quality and in-depth reporting.”

So what solution did A.P. provide to this news-wrought malaise?

It suggested what it called “1-2-3 filing,” a three-pronged presentation of news that included a “news alert headline for breaking news” followed by a brief story written in present tense and eventually topped off by a broadcast-like full-scale multimedia package.

London’s Telegraph has begun to adopt just such an approach and has already seen a jump in its site’s traffic.

The Associated Press is pleased CBRG could go through with the study, hoping its results could better aid its ability to present news.

“The real value [of the study] was that it gave us a lasting model of how news is being consumed in the digital space by young people that we can use to improve our own newsgathering and project development,” said Jim Kennedy, A.P.’s director of strategic planning.

The only questions that remain, then, are what truly makes 1-2-3 different from what most news sites do already, complete with visual assault and overkill, and if it is different, how can that stop eager readers from just as eagerly doing other things while web surfing?

Legal mentions © L’Atelier BNP Paribas