In 1991 Dr. Mario Garcia invited me to co-direct the first Eye Track Study of newspapers at The Poynter Institute for Media Studies.
In 2007 Sara Quinn of Poynter’s Visual Journalism faculty invited me to co-direct a follow-up study. Here’s a summary of both studies.
Poynter’s first eye tracking study: EyeTrac 1991
The first Poynter eye tracking study was conducted in 1991. In that study a newspaper prototype was created and tested on 90 readers at three U.S. newspapers – the St. Petersburg Times (Florida), Star Tribune (Minnesota) and The Orange County Register (California).
The major findings in that study changed the way many newspapers around the world designed their products and organized their newsrooms.
Among the findings:
– Readers entered pages through photos then traveled to headlines, cutlines, and eventually read the text;
– Color and black and white photos performed the same as far as attracting attention;
– Teasers with visuals (photos and graphics) grabbed more attention than text-only teasers;
– Briefs were popular with readers;
– Only 25% of all of the text was looked at and a little less was read;
– Open two-page spreads were looked at together as one complete spread.
For more information about this study please contact me. The book, “Eyes on the News,” is the full report of all the major findings with additional analysis and ways to apply the findings to your work.
In 2006 The Poynter Institute conducted another study of 582 readers at four different locations in the U.S. What made this study different from the first is that readers of both print and online were tested, and the real newspapers and news websites were used to test the readers over a five-day period at each location. Broadsheets and tabloids were included.
The four newspapers tested were: the Rocky Mountain News, the Philadelphia Daily News, theSt. Petersburg Times and the (Minneapolis) Star-Tribune. The two websites were the St. Pete Times, and the Star Tribune.
The major findings in that study included:
– Most surprising was the reading finding: Once readers selected a story to read in print or online, they read a lot. More reading took place on line.
– About two-thirds of the print readers were methodical while the online readers were split – half were methodical in their reading behavior while half were scanners.
– In newspapers, readers entered front pages through headlines and photos, while online readers entered through ‘directional’ devices such as navigational bars, teasers and story lists.
– Photos, especially large ones, drew a lot of attention. Mugshots drew relatively little attention.
– Briefs with visuals and teasers with visuals drew more attention than those without visuals.
– Large color ads drew more attention than small ads.
– Podcasts, photo galleries and blogs drew little attention.
– Alternative story formats (narrative stories broken into chunky text like Q&A formats, fact boxes and chronologies) drew more attention than traditional narrative forms.
And, in the prototype portion of the study where we tested for comprehension, readers who read the version of a story broken into alternative story forms remembered more about the story presented.
This is just a summary of the findings. For more information about this study and to order the book go to
eyetrack.poynter.org. The book, “Eyetracking the News,” is the full report of all the major findings with additional analysis and ways to apply the findings to your work. Order it now.