Reading to Learn
How do millennials interact with long-form journalism on their mobile devices? According to research conducted by Jacqueline Marino, an associate professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, millennials say they read to learn.
For the past year, Marino has been collaborating with researchers at Florida International University to study how millennials interact with long form storytelling on mobile devices.
In 2012, The New York Times published the first integrated, long form story, “Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek." In it, the author combined multimedia elements, such as text, video and photos to tell one cohesive story of an avalanche in Washington’s Cascade Mountains.
“This was something no one had seen before,” Marino said. “It was something that was meant to be a true experience for people.”
Since Snow Fall, journalists embraced this new method of storytelling, prompting Marino to explore how audiences interact with the stories and figure out why people were so attracted to this method of storytelling. She worked with her two colleagues, Susan Jacobson and Robert Gutsche Jr., both professors in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Florida International University. All three were named 2015-2016 Reynolds Journalism Institute Research Scholars.
The Reynolds Journalism Institute is part of University of Missouri’s journalism school. The institute supports scholars and professionals as they conduct research on new technologies and new thinking, all focused on improving journalism.
Each scholar pioneered their own study and collaborated on “Scrolling for Story: How Millennials Interact with Long-form Journalism on Mobile Devices,” a white paper highlighting their findings. Jacobson researched apps that personalize long-form pieces, Gutsche led focus groups and did paper prototyping, while Marino conducted an exploratory eye-tracking study.
“I wanted to see what captured their attention and retained audience interest,” Marino said.
Marino conducted her research at IdeaBase, a College of Communication and Information student-run design agency, and used the agency’s eye-tracking equipment to monitor her participants’ eye movements and log where they looked when interacting with digital works from National Public Radio, The Verge and two other journalism organizations. Marino held 30 tracking sessions with 15 students and had them each read two long form digital stories on an iPad. She also followed up her tests with interviews.
“We interviewed everybody because one thing eye tracking can’t do is tell you why someone looked or why they spent a long time on something,” Marino said.
Through her research, Marino discovered that millennials read to learn and spend a great deal of time fixating on the text and video elements of long-form digital storytelling, though they often praised the photographs and interactive elements more. She joined her findings with her colleagues’ to create the white paper that was broken into a five-part series about their research, published by the Reynolds Journalism Institute. Several media outlets and organizations including Editor and Publisher, American Press Institute, News Publishers, The World Association of Newspapers, MediaShift, Nieman Lab and NetNewsCheck also featured their work.
Marino Takes her Research to the Classroom
Marino decided to merge her research with her teaching and challenged students in her Advanced Magazine Writing course to conduct a similar eye-tracking study. Her intention was to teach her students about new tools that help journalists understand their audience and create content to meet the audience’s needs and interests.
“I was hired to teach magazine journalism but only one of my classes I teach has the word magazine in it. That’s because magazines are integrated, they’re brands now that need to exist wherever the audience is,” Marino said. “If you’re a journalist, you have to pay attention to audience. You have to think about where your audience is, what your audience wants, what your audience is interested in.”
She and her students chose a New York Times piece about the oceans and had participants read the article while the students tracked their eye movements. Gutsche, one of her research partners, also incorporated his research into the classroom in Florida and the two classes had two Skype meetings to discuss their findings with one another.
“I like to always include my research into my classes,” Marino said. “Every semester will be different based on what I’m doing.”