Why completion matters to digital journalism

There's a psychological impact of completion we ignore at our peril

Adam Tinworth
Adam Tinworth

If you've been anywhere near me and my training in the last few years, you'll know how much I bang on about the importance of completion as a psychological value in journalism. If people can finish something, they both feel satisfied - and informed. The problem is that, unlike print editions, digital products tend to be hard to finish.

Now, clearly, podcasts and newsletters are both great examples of digital products you can finish. Laura Hazard Owen argues for Neiman Lab that The Atlantic's new app is another example of this. This tweet she embeds sums it up well:

As I often joke, it's impossible to finish the web. I know. I've tried.

It didn't end well.

You can't complete unless you start

So much of the skill of creating new journalism products in the digital age is finding ways of curating new packages out of atomised digital articles. An app is clearly one approach to that, but I'm not yet convinced that The Atlantic has solved the fundamental issue with app products: just getting readers to open the damn things.

This could, of course, be where push notifications come into play. But that's hardly a panacea, as Jasper Jackson's piece for the New Statesman makes clear:

Still, the number of people who actually click through to read a whole story is tiny. Across the news industry, the rate of people clicking through from an alert is around 1 per cent. The BBC, which sends notifications to around eight million users of its news app in the UK, and six million more internationally, says its response rate is higher, though won’t provide an exact figure.

We know what the end goal is: the feeling of satisfaction and being informed that comes with completing a product. The challenge is about getting them to start.

attentioncompletiondigital journalism

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Adam is a lecturer, trainer and writer. He's been a blogger for over 20 years, and a journalist for more than 30. He lectures on audience strategy and engagement at City, University of London.