The ways in which old-fashioned newspapers still trump online newspapers.
A little over five years ago, Slate’s editor Jack Shafer announced that he was canceling his subscription to the New York Times. His cancellation wasn’t in protest of Times coverage of the Middle East, ethnic minorities, religion, sex, or any of the other thousand hot-button issues that cause readers to kill their subscriptions. He was getting rid of his newsprint New York Times because the dandy redesign of NYTimes.com had made it a superior vessel for conveying the news.
Jack Shafer’s anecdotal finds about print’s superiority were seconded earlier this month by an academic study presented at the annual meeting of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication. The paper, “Medium Matters: Newsreaders’ Recall and Engagement With Online and Print Newspapers” (pdf), by Arthur D. Santana, Randall Livingstone, and Yoon Cho of the University of Oregon, pit a group of readers of the print edition of the New York Times against Web-Times readers. Each group was given 20 minutes reading time and asked to complete a short survey.
The researchers found that the print folks “remember significantly more news stories than online news readers”; that print readers “remembered significantly more topics than online newsreaders”; and that print readers remembered “more main points of news stories.” When it came to recalling headlines, print and online readers finished in a draw.
The paper cites other researchers on the subject who have theorized that the layout of online pages—which often insert ads mid-story or force readers to click additional pages to finish the story—may alter the reading experience. A print story, even one that jumps to another page, is not as difficult to chase to its conclusion. Newspapers are less distracting—as anybody who has endured an annoying online ad while reading a news story on the Web knows. Also, and he is channeling the paper a little bit here, by virtue of habit and culture a newspaper commands a different sort of respect, engagement, and focus from readers.