News media

Grabbing  the reader’s attention

and keeping

 Erik van Gruijthuijsen

(63), Managing Director, Publishing

How many of the articles we read in the paper or online do we read all the way through to the end? Probably not as many as we’d like to admit. Many of us give up after only a few paragraphs, or after just two or three articles.

We’re trying to change that, by measuring when online readers close an article or start scrolling. Before the digital era, we had to rely on surveys of newspaper subscribers, which were held once a year. The results would tell us what topics people were interested in. For example, a respondent might say ‘I like to read about culture’ or ‘I’m interested in the economy’. But what kind of culture? And economy as in figures and statistics, or as in stories about entrepreneurs?

Online, there’s a lot more data for us to collect, on all of our articles, 24/7. We had already been doing that for some time in Belgium, but last year we started doing it for our titles in the Netherlands as well. The editorial analysts who do this work – in most cases journalists – help their colleagues write better articles. After all, that’s what every editorial team wants: to create stories that hold the reader’s attention for as long as possible, preferably all the way through.

There shouldn’t be a reason to stop reading, because you want people to feel fully informed. Editorial analysts advise on things like presentation, subheading placement and ideal paragraph length. They can also tell us what kind of photos work (or don’t work) in an online context.

‘Data reveals what readers care about’, it says above another article in this annual report. Initially, some editors called this ‘scoreboard journalism’, suggesting that we were trying to farm as many clicks as possible. But that’s the opposite of what we’re aiming for. Casual passersby, people who move on after reading one article, are not our main target audience. We want regular, loyal visitors – preferably people who appreciate our journalism so much that they become
long-time subscribers.