Teaching Examples

When multimedia is worth doing
February 14, 2007, 1:31 pm
Filed under: journalism, multimedia, online

My friends Nora Paul and Laura Ruel have posted a good article at OJR: Multimedia storytelling: When is it worth it?

They summarize the first study conducted by DiSEL (the Digital Story Effects Lab) from a few years back. In the study, they looked at two versions of a BBC story package about the effects of recreational drugs on a person. One version was “dynamic” (it is animated and has some interactivity); the other was static, just HTML.

They concluded that interactive presentations work best if these are your goals:

  • Users will spend more time with the presentation;
  • Users will describe the experience as “enjoyable”;
  • Users will recall more of the information;
  • Users will recall your brand;
  • Users will feel entertained.

Nora and Laura also discuss some related findings from Poynter’s Eyetrack III.

I have often argued that when graduate students conduct a study of online journalism stories or packages, testing for recall (that is, how much the user remembered afterward) is kind of odd — considering that we are looking at journalism. It’s a convenient measure for use in a research study. But do journalists sit around and say, “Hm, do you think people will remember this story tomorrow? No? Then let’s not run it.” Do readers talk about the story at work the next day because they are able to recite facts from the story? No. So I’m not wild about findings related to recall.

I am, however, intrigued by the finding that people spent more time with the (more) interactive story.

What I’d also like to see more research about: Understanding. This is MUCH harder to measure than recall, but it’s so much more important for journalism.

Take, for example, the studies that have found that a large percentage of Americans believe that Saddam Hussein had something to do with Al Qaeda. It would be very interesting to give a set of research subjects an interactive “learn about Al Qaeda” package and a static package with the same subject matter. You would have to pre-test them to discover their current thoughts on the matter, of course. After the two groups were exposed to the two versions, I would like to know whether there is any difference between the two groups in their understanding of the truth in this news story.

If people who saw the interactive version were more likely to understand what is real and what is not, then we would have a very meaningful result for further study.

I also would like to see some tests on what people choose if they have options for both multimedia and a static text. How much time do they spend on each one?

I have heard anecdotal evidence from several journalists that when an animated graphic is promoted on the home page beside a headline (which links to the text story), the graphic will get more than twice as many pageviews as the text story.

I think this really deserves further study.

(Melissa Worden also commented about this article. So did Danny Sanchez and Angela Grant.)

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