Let users find what they want
I’m in the middle of reading Hot Text: Web Writing That Works, by Jonathan and Lisa Price. It’s a good book, even though not all of its common-sense advice is directly relevant to journalism. The Prices suggest how to shorten, simplify and structure online writing. Text needs to be more navigable on the Web than it does in print, they say, because reading online with a lower screen resolution is more difficult than reading on a high-resolution printed page. As a result, readers scan the page rather than reading and only stop to read what they are interested in. The more boldfaced items, lists, headings and short paragraphs the author uses, the more scannable the text becomes.
Facts like this about the very nature of reading online mean news sites need to not just organize front pages better. They also need to write more scannable articles. But by far the most important point here is that readers only read things they are interested in (duh). It’s harder online to use a clever lead or a good picture to get someone to read an article if they aren’t interested anyway, especially since reading that article means clicking a link and waiting for the next page to load. As I’ve said before, I think news sites need to offer more highly specific, high quality, customized information rather than more broad, generic information. If people are looking for a specific bit of information or are interested in the topic, they will stop and read. Otherwise, they’ll just scan by what they find irrelevant, then leave.