Medium Matters: Newsreaders' Recall and Engagement with Online and Print Newspapers

Material/Activity Tested:

Does reader engagement (recall, amount consumed, credibility) towards news stories vary by media type (print v. online).


Participants for the study were undergraduate journalism-related majors at a large U.S. university.

Interested participants, solicited through an open-call e-mail were pre-screened for the study by completing a short e-mail questionnaire. In order to randomly assign participants to either of two conditions (the print or online version of The New York Times), all eligible participants needed at least a minimum level of comfort reading the news in each of these formats.

The primary sample (N = 45) for the study was comparable to other studies that considered recall across print and online media.  Seventy-three percent of participants were women, and the mean age of the sample was 22 years old. Participants were compensated with a $10 gift card to a local business and were entered into a random drawing for an iPod Nano.

Participants were asked to conduct a news “blackout” on the day of their session by avoiding any news consumption that morning.

Each group was given 20 minutes reading time and asked to complete a short survey.  To approximate a real-life newspaper reading experience, the same-day hardcopy morning edition and live Web site from The New York Times were used.

Top-Line Results:

  • Of the survey group, which averaged 22 years in age, 76.9% reported that their main source of news is the Internet; 19.2% primarily use printed newspapers for news; 17.3% primarily use television, and 7.7% primarily use radio.
  • A statistically significant finding shows that readers of printed newspapers recalled significantly more news stories than online news readers.
  •  A second statistically significant finding shows that readers of print newspapers remembered more news topics and article main points than online readers. However, no significant difference was found between online and print news readers in the recollection of headlines.
  • Although print news readers tended to read less of a news story than online readers did, no significant difference was found between the two groups as to amount of news stories recalled.
  • Although readers of online news sources tend to give slightly greater credibility to the stories they read as compared to those who read printed newspapers, the difference was not significant.
  • When viewing online newspapers, 61.7% of the online group reported reading the news stories and 14.8% said they read blogs. Only 8.8% said they scrolled through photo galleries or clicked hyperlinks embedded in a story. Three percent or less reported clicking on advertisements, taking polls, listening to audio, or watching videos.


The paper's Discussion section explores theories for why print newspaper readers are more engaged and had better recall than readers of the online version: 

  • Online newspapers tend to give few cues about a story's importance while print readers are "told" what to ready by story placement and prominence.


  • The printed newspaper layout is less distracting.  Online news articles often feature ads mid-story or force readers to click additional pages to read more -- possibly altering the reading experience.

"The results reflect prior research that shows print subjects remembered more news stories than online subjects and suggest that the development of dynamic (multimedia) online story forms in the past decade have had little effect toward making them more impressionable than print stories."  

Source:  Academic study presented at the annual meeting of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, Newspaper Division, Aug. 10, 2011, St. Louis, MO

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