Contrary to popular belief, the Internet may not mean the end of long-form journalism.
We received research results last week showing that readers enjoy reading long stories on their computers and even on their tablets and phones.
The American Press Institute measured reader “engagement” on about 105,000 stories published online in recent months by The News Tribune and 38 other news organizations. Engagement included: how many clicks, or page views, on a story; how long on average a person spent reading; and how many times the story was shared on Facebook or Twitter.
The API report found:
• Initiative was the biggest driver of reader engagement. Stories we came up with ourselves — rather than stories we chased alongside the rest of the media herd — got 40 percent more reader engagement.
• Major enterprise stories — those we spent the most time and effort on — got almost 30 percent more engagement and were twice as likely to be viewed a week later.
• Stories longer than 1,000 words got the most engagement, 20 percent more than average. They got the most clicks, the longest read times and were the most shared.
We’ve always believed those three factors made for a well-read newspaper. However, conventional wisdom was that readers used a smartphone or computer for skimming through headlines rather than sitting down with a long story.
It’s true people still click quickly through breaking news updates, but it’s encouraging that our traditional stories, especially when they’re unique to The News Tribune, still satisfy readers in this new medium.
Here were some other findings:
• What works in government coverage? Initiative, explanatory and watchdog approaches. Readers comment on government stories more than any other topic (no surprise there). Adding a picture to a government story doubled the clicks and tripled the shares on social media. In the report, 75 percent of government stories didn’t have photos. Those that did usually were more about people than bureaucracy, which readers obviously preferred.
• Food and dining was the most popular topic. Readers want opinions here and especially like information about restaurant openings and inspections.
• In sports coverage, readers want distinctive stories they haven’t seen anywhere else and an analytical voice.
Expect us to put these findings to work as we fine-tune our coverage in the future.
RECORDS HOUND LANDS JOB WITH SEATTLE POLICE
In February, I wrote about Tim Clemans, a 24-year-old, self-taught computer programmer and thorn in the side of government agencies. Clemans repeatedly filed enormous public records requests and then offered to write programs for the same agencies to help them fill the requests.
Last week, Clemans went to work for the man. The Seattle Police Department hired him as a technical support specialist in its public affairs office.
One of Clemans’ initial requests was for Seattle police dash cam videos. Rather than fight the request, the department allowed him to develop software to help them. His approach was to blur the videos to eliminate privacy concerns, then have police routinely post them online at the end of each shift.
Citizens could see enough from the fuzzy videos to know which ones to request, rather than asking for big batches. Police could manually review requested videos, releasing images the public should be able to see.
Clemans initially worked for free. Now he’s on the payroll, hired as a three-month temp to work on Seattle’s body-cam pilot program.
“Tim has helped us out tremendously with our video redaction efforts, which is being recognized nationally,” said Mike Wagers, chief operating officer for SPD. “We brought him on board to continue to refine the pilot program, scale it to handle all of our video data, and make it available for free to other police departments.”
JBLM PAPER WINS NATIONAL AWARD
The Northwest Guardian, the official post newspaper for Joint Base Lewis-McChord, last month received the 2014 U.S. Department of Defense Thomas Jefferson Award as the best “civilian enterprise news publication” in all branches of the military.
The weekly newspaper and website are produced by a staff of JBLM civilian employees and contract employees from The News Tribune, with some active-duty contributors, as well.
The Guardian won the Army-wide Keith L. Ware award numerous times in the past decade, and also won the Jefferson Award in 2006.