Using eye tracking to examine reader engagement with long-form multimedia journalism

As 2015-2016 RJI Research Scholars, we’re exploring audience reactions to long-form multimedia journalism, such as The Guardian’s Firestorm and The Verge’s examination of an intriguing solution to meat addiction.

Our main questions include:

  • How do audiences interact with long-form multimedia presentations?
  • How might readers’ appetites to consume this type of work match the journalistic passion to create it?
  • To what degree may these large, comprehensive, often expensive-to-produce works be worth the investment in terms of audience engagement?

We’re making great progress in finding the answers.

At Kent State University, Jacqueline Marino is using eye-tracking technology to track users’ eye movements as they interact with these projects on an iPad.

At our testing site at KSU’s College of Communication and Information’s IdeaBase, a student-powered design agency, participants are fitted with eye-tracking glasses that record their gaze. With two sensors on each eye, the glasses capture 50 samples per second and produce a high-definition video of the participant’s gaze point, identifiable by a red ring moving across the screen. The Tobii Glasses 2, which just became available, resemble Google Glass more than they match bulky wearable eye trackers of years gone by.

Already, 13 people have participated in this part of our study, using the glasses to examine audience engagement with long-form multimedia journalism on iPads.

We have yet to analyze the eye-tracking data. But from watching the live feed of the video and interviewing the participants after each eye-tracking session, we’ve already learned:

  • The majority said they find the projects interesting and informative, but certain design choices and technological challenges have adversely affected the user experience.
  • By and large, participants say they haven’t been deterred from exploring presentations with a great deal of text, but some say they have been turned off by huge blocks of text.
  • Participants are not only reading the text in these projects, they’re using interactive features to learn more about--not just to enjoy--the material.

At Florida International University, Susan Jacobson and Robert Gutsche are piloting two other aspects of the overarching project using the School of Journalism and Mass Communication’s Media Innovation Incubator Lab. Jacobson is investigating to what extent, if any, interactive applications add value to news stories. She plans to conduct one-on-one interviews beginning in November.

Gutsche has integrated the RJI project into his Audience Analysis class in the school’s Digital Media Studies major by having students not only learn the theory and methods behind examining audiences but of executing focus groups that explore user experiences related to mobile media.

“Students not only have a chance to participate in the focus group but to understand the process of how audience research happens,” said Alina Rafikova, an FIU graduate student studying advertising and public relations who is working as a graduate assistant on the RJI project. “The way content is presented in mobile versions are needs to be addressed by developers, and that is where this project will provide essential insights.”

Jacqueline Marino  
Research scholar

Susan Jacobson  
Research scholar

Robert Gutsche Jr.  
Research scholar


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