THE WAY WE READ THE WEB

Jakob Nielsen’s studies point out how people read web stories and how best to organize info.

Less is more. This is the general view to keep in mind when writing for the average internet consumer. With the dwindling attention spans brought on by today’s multitasking generation, Jakob Nielsen has published his findings on how best to grab web readers’ attention.

“F” for faster

In reading a story on the internet, Nielsen has found that readers consume stories in an F-shaped pattern. That is, the more they read, the less attention they devote. The top line two is usually given complete attention while readers pay less close attention from left to right the further into the story the venture. This means that if you as a writer need to get important information across, best do it in the beginning.

Headlines = clicks

Similarly when writing headlines for online stories, short, sweet and to the point is the way to go. Nielsen reports that the most consumable headlines are usually five words, are predictable and very up-front in what the story is about. Moreso than print, readers online want to know exactly what they will be reading about and having a straightforward headline is how they know.

Linkedin

When using hyperlinks, Nielsen points out that good use of links is essential, as the eye is naturally drawn to links. Using the standard blue on white backdrop is the most noticeable color scheme for links. As opposed to shortening links to just one word, good links are used on descriptive phrases, usually with an action or phrase starting things off. Above all, links must be noticeable and understandable if you’re to truly reap the benefits.

 

The first point is not terribly surprising, since much of it falls in line with certain print journalism practices. Frontloading the important info of the the story is the exact same as the inverted pyramid style of newspaper writing, while keeping sentences and paragraphs brief is also something that is normally sought in standard AP newspaper style.

My experience with headlines has been a bit circular, as I started out in web where I learned to have headlines be as short and to the point as possible. I had no idea back then that a website’s search results would depend on how blunt the headline was. Then, as I worked more into print and design, I started to drift closer to the more creative, frilly headlines that work for print. I then had to train myself back into headlines that work for the web, sometimes changing the two for the shovelware on the website.

Lastly, my previous education on links has mostly been intuitive. Like reading or riding a bike, the more you observe how links are used and practice using them yourself, the more you realize how well they work or don’t. Honestly, your biggest asset is going to be picking the right color scheme to have your links jump out.

Some of this stuff may seem obvious to those who have worked with the concepts before but Nielsen has done something better and expressed what works and what doesn’t in fine detail — something not everyone who already knows about this stuff can do. Going forward, these studies can be excellent tools for upcoming web writers to fully understand how to be successful.

SOME “POYNTERS” ON SOUND STORIES

Since the golden radio days of old, sound has been of one of the most effective storytelling mediums. If used correctly, audio stories can be incredibly effective tools in further immersing audiences in a story and providing a more tactile experience. Just ask the listeners of Orson Wells’ War of the Worlds in 1938 how real it sounded.

While not as prominent as it once was, using sound for a story is still an effective option for modern journalists. But first, one must determine which stories will actually benefit from the use of sound.


The first thing the Poynter course “Telling Stories with Sound” points out is that some stories are better fitted for sound than others. Sound stories have four general sources to use — voiceover, interviews, natural sound, ambient noise — and the best sound stories can utilize almost all of them. As an example, the course points out that stories about a dog park and a restaurant opening make for good material because you can get some color in them with clips of dogs parking and food sizzling, respectively. Stories about the city council and various government activities are tougher because, besides interviews, there are much fewer lively, ambient sounds to add color.

Another tough aspect of sound stories is that it requires much more preparation and time management. Certain locations ebb and flow with their sound levels. You don’t want to give an interview at a busy, noisy airplane hangar where you can’t hear the person talking but you also want to get some sort of ambient noise, which can’t be accomplished when a place like a restaurant is closed. Poynter suggests a good amount of preparation beforehand to know when good times to record are and to have a quiet place to record in mind, just in case.

Once you have all your necessary gear you can start concerning yourself with what makes a good audio recording. For interviews, there are some inherent differences from print that makes audio unique. First, always have your speaker answer your questions in full sentences. Having an abbreviated answer may work for print but sound incomplete as a recording. Like print, having them be as descriptive as possible can also make for a more interesting audio bit that helps flesh out the story.  Finally, putting successive interviews next to each other can fill in gaps and give an idea of the larger picture.

The main point in all this is to keep things interesting. Have a strong script for your voiceover to keep things focused. Keeps things fun and sound open while you’re talking. When dialogue goes on too long or things sound like they’re getting too monotonous, you can spice things up with ambient noises, natural sounds and snippets of music (20 seconds or under for fair use).


Sound is a useful, immersive tool for online media storytelling but it is also in need of a revitalization. In an age of constant viral web content, it has been noted on digg.com that very little of this viral content is sound-only. Our culture is a visual-oriented one and rewards videos and images as such with clicks and likes. The only real viral sound content to come out is usually noteworthy 911 calls. As of now, the biggest avenue for an online journalist to get their audio content to go viral is to share it on social media, for which SoundCloud.com has been the biggest outlet for audio sharing.

Some fault may also be on the somewhat more limited nature of using sound in a story. Video can be used in almost every occasion but sound can be restricted more to certain instances.

Stories that utilize sound have a place in the hierarchy of online storytelling. If the situation is right, they can grant a more immersive story than the routine image or print story. But to truly progress forward and become a present force on the web, there must be a new, easy way for them to ride the social media train to become more viral-prone. 

MINNESOTA’S DEADLY MOTORCYCLE WEEK

Dozens are injured, some killed during a number of motorcycle related accidents

With summer here and motorcycles out and about, a spike in accidents among riders was observed this past week. A recent report by the Star Tribune noted that since May 29, 28 riders have been injured in cycle-related accidents and five have died.

The deceased:

  • Latimothy Saxon, 49, of Minneapolis was struck by a car late Wednesday afternoon in Minneapolis and died shortly after. Authorities reporter Saxon was not wearing a helmet.
  • Patrick Rix, 42, of Duluth was riding in a group late Thursday when he lost control and crashed merging onto Interstate 94. Rix was not wearing a helmet.
  • Gregory Cox, 55, of Burnsville, was struck by a car after side swiping another vehicle early Thursday morning. Cox was wearing a helmet.
  • A van making a u-turn killed a husband and wife, Jason Ingvall, 44, and Melonie Ingvall, 42, both of St. Francis on May 29. Neither of the couple were wearing helmets.

Prevention:

The tragic events of the past week have prompted the Minnesota Department of Public Safety to remind the public to play it safe when it comes to motorcycles this summer. Some tips for cyclists to avoid crashes include:

  • Always wear the correct safety gear, such as eyewear and helmets. Although it is not required by law for drivers over 18 in the state, wearing a helmet has been shown to greatly lower the risk of a fatality in accidents.
  • Don’t drink and drive.
  • Don’t drive in between lanes of traffic.
  • Always drive defensively.

Additionally, automobile drivers are recommended to always keep an eye out for motorcycles. Efforts like the  “Start Seeing Motorcycles” campaign work to raise awareness of  drivers towards their fellow cycle drivers and stress to share the road.

ALCOHOL ON HOLD FOR GRAND FALLS RESTAURANTS

The tap has run dry for some area restaurants, as a number of Grand Forks restaurants recently appeared on a state list of restaurants that have not paid their taxes. Until these businesses pay their taxes, they will not be able to sell alcohol.


The latest additions on the list added in May are:

  • Simon’s — Grand Falls
  • The Turkish Lounge — Grand Falls
  • The Coast Guard — Blue Lake
  • Jim’s Fine Steaks & More — New Caanan

Simon’s and the Turkish Lounge join three other Grand Falls restaurants that were added to the list in January:

  • The Oldtime Lanes
  • Spa’s Family Restaurant
  • Mama’s Grill

These businesses can still sell the alcohol they have, but any distributer selling new booze to them can be penalized.