Mar 21, 2008

They come and they go

Editor & Publisher reports that the top 30 newspaper Web sites saw the total number of visits rise in February when compared with February 2007, but the average time per person spent reading the sites dropped - sometimes dramatically.

The Los Angeles Times saw the average time slip from 12 minutes to 7 minutes. Readers of The Boston Globe's cut their grazing time from an average of 21 minutes to 8 minutes.

The numbers are probably skewed by the fact that millions of readers skipped around between sites to see what they had to say about various presidential contests. However, this news is likely to feed the trend of appetizer journalism, which is trying to tap into the shorter attention spans of finicky readers.

News sites are being retooled to fit this distraction model, boosting content that can be consumed quickly from a portable device or while not working at work. I just hope it doesn't come at the expense of everything else.

Local newspapers, already faced with limited resources, are finding it difficult to strike a balance between hits-based journalism (anything that makes 'em click) and old-style reporting. When your budget is falling, it's tough to justify full-menu service.

Of course, these are the same market forces that led to an explosion in fast food.

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