Thursday, April 14, 2005

ASNE: Under 30s want to "experience" news

E&P reports from the American Society of Newspaper Editors on studies by The Readership Institute and the Minneapolis Star Tribune that "Young Readers Want Very Different Writing, Packaging."

Among the findings: "The stories have to be short, snappy, and irreverent." The study used mock-ups of the Star Tribune -- one regular, one "glitzier" and one called the "Experience Paper." The Experience Paper won.

Here is how E&P describes it:
Instead of leading with a day-old story about President Bush's trip to Europe, in the third prototype the editors ran only a reefer on the front page to an inside story. Instead, the prototype ran a below-the-fold, mug-and-quote feature that polled area residents on exporting democracy. The editors also cut a three-column feature on a woman who has run thousands of miles through the streets of Minneapolis and replaced it with two essays on Texas hold 'em ( "Should Poker be a Crime?" the lead headline asked) and a wire story on identity theft accompanied by picture of Paris Hilton (pop culture sells). There's also a list of five trivia nuggets that will help readers sound smart. (Number 1: "Pitchers and catchers report to spring training.")
I agree with the panelist who said the Bush story is old news by the time it hits the paper. But there will surely be debates about how much of this stuff we bury. The answer might be somewhere in the middle -- instead of writing yesterday's story as yesterday's story, make sure it looks ahead, brings more context to the table and doesn't blather. We act like this is something new. It isn't. Wire-service writers had to do it for years. It was called the PMs version, and when executed well, it was a beatiful thing to behold.

Dropping the feature on the woman runner in favor of the poker, however, is potentially more disturbing for what it signals to me. It tells me that (what I hope was) well-written local news about local people appears to be devalued in this prototype. One story, one example: not yet time for a lot of hand-wringing. But a harbinger? I think there's a lot to be learned from these studies, but this lesson needs a closer look.

Couple of notes:
-- Would have helped had E&P been able to get copies or links to pictures of these prototypes. If you want to talk about "experience," no better way than to actually see the thing. I don't know whether this is E&P's oversight, or one by the researchers. But online, I think we need to start saying in stories when such things are not available. Just as in print, we try to answer the readers' questions when we anticipate they will occur; likewise we need to do so online and recognize that there may be additional or different questions to be addressed.
-- The article says that young readers favored the Experience Paper by a 2-to-1 margin. Let's get the terms correct. It was a 2-to-1 ratio. Margin refers to the actual difference between two numbers; ratio to the division of one by the other.


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