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Online readers remember less than print readers

July 22, 2013

By John F. Kirch

People who read print newspapers are more likely to recall the stories they consume than are those who get their news from the Internet, a new study concludes.

The study, which appeared in the Spring 2013 issue of the Newspaper Research Journal, found that print readers are better at remembering the topics and main points of the stories they read. For example, while print readers recalled an average of 4.24 news stories that they read in a 20-minute period, online readers remembered only 3.35 stories.

In addition, the study said that readers of online newspapers acquire less information about national, international and political events than do print readers. It also found that people who read online newspapers are more interested in the text of the story rather than the multimedia tools, such as video, hyperlinks and photo galleries.

“The implications of the research should inform the resource priorities of newspapers as they continue to see sweeping changes in the readership habits of their print and online audiences,” the study’s authors wrote. “Newspapers, as they continue to place a high priority on strengthening their online presence and building brand loyalty, should be aware of the shifting ways readers are engaging both media and the extent to which their role in preserving democracy through an informed citizenry is being transformed.”

The study was conducted by Assistant Professor Arthur D. Santana of the University of Houston, Adjunct Professor Randall M. Livingstone of Endicott College and Yoon Y. Cho, a doctoral student at the University of Oregon.

The researchers divided 45 college students into two groups: one that was asked to read the print edition of that day’s New York Times and the other that read the same day’s news on the Times’ website. Students were given 20 minutes and could engage the content in any way they wanted. They were then asked to recall the headlines, general topics and main points of as many stories as they could remember. They were also asked to indicate how much of a story they read and to rate the credibility of each story.

Participants in both the print and online editions of the Times said they read most or all of the stories that interested them. Online readers ranked their stories as more credible than did print readers, although the difference was considered statistically insignificant.

More than 61 percent of online readers said they were most interested in news stories while 14,8 percent said they liked blogs best.

The researchers suggested that online readers remember less of what they read because while the print edition of a newspaper is dedicated almost exclusively to news, the Internet provides consumers with a variety of uses.

“Unlike print,” the authors wrote, “online news is ephemeral; it can appear and disappear without warning, creating an element of distraction.”






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