— Pablo Neruda
I am the world’s laziest blogger. It’s verifiable. Blogging, through a subtle evolutionary process, has become part of my job. I was, as far as anyone can tell, the first newspaper reporter in Kentucky to establish a regular blog. At the very least, I was one of the first, and certainly the first at The Courier-Journal. It was an experimental thing at the time.
I sounded unsure of its purpose or execution even then. Read for yourself by clicking here, my first-ever blog post, from August 31, 2005.
The other day, when someone asked why I didn’t spend more time on my newspaper sports blog, before I could stop myself, I answered: “Well, nobody really pays me to do it. And nobody is paying to read it. So I don’t see where it’s serving much of a purpose.”
That’s not a satisfactory answer, of course. And not altogether accurate. It’s true, newspaper writers, while asked to churn out as much copy as ever, for the most part have not seen a salary increase despite the increased demands of adding a blog to the job description. And it’s also true that most web-based publications struggle to turn any kind of meaningful profit.
I’m thinking of the great Samuel Johnson, who said, “No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money.”
I suppose the very blog you’re reading, then, should be titled, “Musings of a blockhead.” Unless anyone wants to send me a few bucks on PayPal.
I only bring all this up because I got a note from a well-meaning adviser the other day suggesting that I should break my thoughts up into shorter segments on the sports blog, in order to bring people back to the site more often. Instead of a series of long thoughts, to offer short, quick-hit thoughts and move on.
They copied this information:
F for fast. That’s how users read your precious content. In a few seconds, their eyes move at amazing speeds across your website’s words in a pattern that’s very different from what you learned in school.
In our new eyetracking study, we recorded how 232 users looked at thousands of Web pages. We found that users’ main reading behavior was fairly consistent across many different sites and tasks. This dominant reading pattern looks somewhat like an F and has the following three components:
- Users first read in a horizontal movement, usually across the upper part of the content area. This initial element forms the F’s top bar.
- Next, users move down the page a bit and then read across in a second horizontal movement that typically covers a shorter area than the previous movement. This additional element forms the F’s lower bar.
- Finally, users scan the content’s left side in a vertical movement. Sometimes this is a fairly slow and systematic scan that appears as a solid stripe on an eyetracking heatmap. Other times users move faster, creating a spottier heatmap. This last element forms the F’s stem.
The handout went on to state that users (not “readers,” mind you) won’t read your post in a word-by-word manner. I liked this piece of advice: “The first two paragraphs must state the most important information. There’s some hope that users will actually read this material, though they’ll probably read more of the first paragraph than the second.”
By the third paragraph, forget it. Which means that you’ve probably long since stopped reading this. One study suggests that users spend 4.4 seconds per every 100 words on a web page. I suppose, then, that my time is up.
Which is fine, but brings me back to my original point. If nobody is going to read it, why waste time writing it? Why not write something that someone will read, in whatever format it will be read?
Last summer, several of us sat down with the interns at our newspaper and learned that not one subscribed to an actual newspaper, and really, none even got their news from newspaper web sites. They read it on their phones.
I called up one of my columns on my phone the other day, and even I grew weary of trying to read it on such a small screen, in the midst of whatever else I was doing.
And it occurred to me that maybe, where an economy of words with a concentration of meaning is concerned, poetry may be just the answer. Who knows?
We’re in the midst of a kind of reorganization of news writing, in which both consumers and publishers have to decide just what exactly the words are worth.
If it’s all the same to everybody, I think I’ll wait until that decision is made before I start limiting myself to 100-word thoughts and bullet-point brainstorms.