Week Twelve: The New Readers

“I’m going to keep this brief, because you’re not going to stick around for long. I’ve already lost a bunch of you. For every 161 people who landed on this page, about 61 of you—38 percent—are already gone. You “bounced” in Web traffic jargon, meaning you spent no time “engaging” with this page at all.” https://editingforall.files.wordpress.com/2014/04/screen-shot-2014-04-02-at-11-20-01-am.png

Engaging readers by challenging their disengagement, the writer who wrote that hook, Farhad Manjoo, wrote “You won’t finish this article,” a feature in Slate last summer, in which he takes on the issue of web reading. Some of his most interesting claims, for our purposes, include the following:

  • Most readers who tweet out a link will do so before they read the entire article.
  • Readers don’t like to see double spaces after periods.
  • Readers don’t like to scroll. Scroll depth is usually less than halfway down the first page of an article.
  • “Most visitors read about 60%” of article content.
  • “Most visitors see all content on video and photo [galleries].”

Nota bene: all of this information was based on research reported by data scientist for Chartbeat Josh Schwartz.

Manjoo mixes two parts of frustration and disappointment with three parts data for one tall career conundrum that’s hard to digest. Still, for all his unabashed ranting, he concludes with some humility even the most traditional-print lovers might identify with:

“Maybe this is just our cultural lot: We live in the age of skimming. I want to finish the whole thing, I really do. I wish you would, too. Really—stop quitting! But who am I kidding. I’m busy. You’re busy. There’s always something else to read, watch, play, or eat.”

Like it or not, how we read is changing. Mashable made headlines in 2011 by publishing research from the Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism, which found that “more people get their news from the Internet than from newspapers — and more ad dollars went to online outlets than to newspapers, too.” Most of the study respondents were aged 18-29, and this group, we know, is the next generation of readers editors will serve. Our logic follows as such: if how we read is changing, how we write will change next, followed by how we edit.

We’re now encouraging our students to think through these issues as editors. In the third unit, they are to edit writing for the web. Some of the exercises in this unit involve analyzing web pages for visual design, layout, and formatting. Some of these differences are out of their control. In other words, cascading style sheets or existing house style stipulations will determine how they edit. But when such constraints aren’t in play, experience critiquing and knowledge of who to change these editorial considerations will come in handy.

In prepping for the new readers, our students will also need to learn how to form new partnerships; namely, they should start thinking about partnerships with designers. On Wednesday of this week, Dr. Leverenz told our class: “There were once these very clear lines distinguishing writers [from] designers… those relationships are now fluid and people are relying very heavily on collaboration.” The lines that divide writers from designers are now blurred, and consequently, the lines that distinguish editorial work will necessarily change, too. These blurred lines challenge us to build new relationships based on new responsibilities.

I wonder, though, for any reader out there: Were you prepared to write/edit/design for new readers?

In class, we’re analyzing the changes. In the coming weeks, we will have editors visiting our class to talk about their current practices and how they see editing changing. Are other editing classes analyzing, discussing, or bringing in third-party speakers? If not, what are others doing differently? What would you do (or would have done) differently?

I’d love to hear more ideas. Lurkers, consider my warm and sincere interest in your experiences and feel free to comment below.

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