A digital news reader’s bill of rights

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Journalists have long had the bad habit of holding readers in contempt. Maybe not an individual person, but certainly the audience as a whole. And that’s only gotten worse as the Internet has opened newsrooms up to an “unwashed masses” who can talk back.

I’ve heard all the gripes. Readers aren’t carefully reading the whole story. They only want to hear their side. They only want to read about puppies and kitties and raccoon cats.

I do think it’s valuable for a society to be news literate. And I much prefer an email that debates the deep issues of a piece to a one-liner calling me an idiot.

But in what other industry is it acceptable — or even more troubling, admirable — to ignore how the customer is actually interacting with the product?

I believe in a media environment of near unlimited choices, that it’s even more incumbent to treat our readers like the intelligent adults that they are. Here’s my take on a first draft of a digital news reader’s bill of rights.

(1) I have the right to react to a headline and not read the story. Skimming the headlines has always been a common way to experience the news. I don’t understand when that became a bad thing. It’s incumbent that we, the editors, put accurate and complete information in a headline. It might be the only version of a story someone sees. Don’t write a provocative headline that’s scaled back dramatically in the story.

(2) I have the right to stop reading at any point without criticism. Nobody owes you their time. Make sure that you’re not giving a false impression if a reader takes off after a few paragraphs. We’re all busy people.

(3) I have the right to expect a page to load in under 5 seconds. No reader is going to wait in front of a blank screen for very long, nor should they have to. Yeah, ad servers and retargeting is probably important for your bottom line, but it doesn’t matter a lick if nobody can stick around to read the actual stories.

(4) I have the right to have no patience for pop-ups. Do you know how impossible it is to scroll through a story when something jumps out at you? Instant X.

(5) I have the right to not be teased. Intrigued is OK, though. Curiosity gap headlines are way played out. Don’t leave me wondering what in the heck you’re talking about in a headline.

(6) I have the right to know if a story is local or national before I click. This is a huge issue at local news outlets. Wild headline, captivating story … or at least it would be if it happened in my city. I don’t care about your crime story if it happened 1,000 miles away.

(7) I have the right to not be an expert. Maybe I don’t know about our city’s council-manager form of government. I’ve got a job and a mortgage and two kids. But I’m smart enough to get up to speed quickly. I don’t need things dumbed down, just explained.

(8) I have the right to check out. Sometimes I like to go on vacation and clear my head. Be there waiting when I get back, and don’t penalize me for missing a few days.

(9) I have the right to voice my opinion. I’m not a burden on you, the reporter, for sharing my thoughts. I’ll make the product better.

(10) I have the right to be heard. And I expect you to listen.

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Andrew Dunn
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Editor-in-Chief