The news[paper] has always been about speed. Even a hundred years ago, before TV and radio, newspapers were about helping you download an unmanageable pile of information every day as quickly and efficiently as possible. This is why reading is not really in trouble. It's the fastest method of communication -- generally, reading is faster than listening and watching.
But the problem with online news is there's so many different forms it can take. And it can take them all at once. The problem has been at the forefront of my mind again since I read this piece in the latest Nieman Report.
Part of what this study is suggesting is that the young online reader wants information to be presented in atomized chunks, a self-contained little bit at a time -- and they want to click to see more. Of course what is frequently called "chunking the text" is an old(ish) idea. And we do it all the time when we break supplementary information in a story into a sidebar, or when we take a long narrative and break it into parts with subheads. This article is suggesting that we need to take those chunks off the page, and put them behind links. It puts the user in control of what information they get when, and is easier for a distracted mind to grasp quickly. And it's more engaging.
Now, of course, I've also had arguments with (reasonably) young people who want everything on one page and they think it's annoying the way I want to make people click for more. They see it as me making the info harder to get to. And that might be the problem.
If you actually tried to live up to this idea, it would take a lot of effort to keep it helpful and not confusing...
But the problem goes further. What do you do with multimedia content? Half of news users think they get a better understanding of the news by seeing it -- think of the Nixon-Kennedy debates. Those that listened to it felt Nixon won, those who watched it said Kennedy won. (And look how that turned out.)
That's why we have the Video page on this website. It's for those people.
But wouldn't it be cool if a story could weave text, audio, and video together? Not just supplementing with video, but making the text and the video actually dependent on each other...
It's a lot to orchestrate, and part of me wants to make it possible to do it any way, depending on what the content lends it to. But another part of me recognizes that some people just want to look at pictures, and others just want to read something.
So, oh readers (that actually read this blog), what do you want to see?