Isn't it possible to print a story uninterrupted in newspapers and magazines?
January 24, 2005 11:02 AM   Subscribe

Why are stories "continued on page #" in newspapers and magazines? I've always felt that it disrupts reading because I have to go back and forth between the pages. Isn't it possible to print a story uninterrupted?
posted by pinkkitty to Writing & Language (19 answers total)
I've always thought it was to increase the amount of advertising you see. It doesn't happen in non-USian papers so much.
posted by ascullion at 11:04 AM on January 24, 2005

So that you have to thumb through the adverts to finish reading it.
posted by sic at 11:04 AM on January 24, 2005

Funny, I always thought (as far as newspapers go, at least) that it helps them fit more headlines on the front page. The more they have written there, the more likely you are to see something you want to read and buy the thing. In fact, my impression is that only page-one articles are broken like this in newspapers; but I rarely read physical copies of newspapers, so my perception may be off.

As far as magazines go, though, the advertising thing probably nails it.
posted by Johnny Assay at 11:14 AM on January 24, 2005

Correct, Johnny.
posted by Captaintripps at 11:15 AM on January 24, 2005

In some magazines, it seems like they have a limited number of color pages. So they start all the articles in the color section, with a nice photo and graphic design, and continue them in the black & white section at the end. More bang for their buck.
posted by smackfu at 11:25 AM on January 24, 2005

The upfront real estate in a newspaper paper is precious. If today's New York Times were laid out with the lead story printed in full first, followed by the second most important story, followed by the third, the whole front page would likely be one story, with other stories inside taking up their own pages. You wouldn't get that sense of seeing lots of headlines on the front page and choosing which to read. Instead, you get a taste of all the top stories and read the jumps if you want.
That's an extreme example, but the principle holds.

Some papers, notably those in tabloid format that don't have any stories starting on the cover, have begun restricting stories to whatever can fit on the page. Banning jumps means much shorter stories, but much less flipping around for the reader.
posted by CunningLinguist at 11:34 AM on January 24, 2005

In the case with The New Yorker (doesn't separate articles), I sometimes only make it half through, missing all the ending ads. With my other magazines, where I'm flipping back and forth it I end up with a lot more eyeball time on lagging ads. It makes the magazine seem more cluttered, but also more full. With that said, I'd pay more for a magazine that does it like The New Yorker any day.
posted by sled at 11:40 AM on January 24, 2005

As sled notes, magazines that have solid, fresh content all the way through can worry less about this problem. (Cooking Light is another good example of that -- almost every story is part of a regular department that appears every month, and they are spread evenly throughout the magazine, so that even at the back there is nice art and it's not 40 pages of jumps).

Even the New Yorker, though, has a noticeably tiered ad system --two-page spreads and full-page color ads toward the front, and small sidebar ads to the back where the reviews appear. It allows them to present a range of advertisers, which I like. And though the small sidebar ads are far less pricey than the shiny bright ones up front, they are providing a great return for the clientele that takes advantage of them, partly because the New Yorker makes an effort to place good content all the way to the back.
posted by Miko at 12:12 PM on January 24, 2005

I thought this was why God invented "printable version" links?
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 1:16 PM on January 24, 2005

Yea, with magazines that value commentary over ads, like NYer and Harper's, they don't separate articles. I hate it too, though.
posted by scazza at 1:35 PM on January 24, 2005

It's not just so you have to look at more ads, you cynics. There are too many other factors to take into account.

Advertising is sold in periodicals at standard sizes (usually for that periodical, though there are some industry-wide sizes). Unless ads are full pages, which is very expensive, they have to be laid out in the publication in such a way as to have a good mix of editorial and ads (since advertisers like being near editorial content), to make sure that competitors aren't placed next to each other (unless it's a section devoted to that, such as escort services), and to make sure that any other conflicts are resolved or avoided (such as not putting stories about war dead next to a military recruitment ad).

Another factor is that the most valuable real estate editorially is the front page of a newspaper, so a well-constructed newspaper will try to start there as many worthy stories as possible, then jump them inside. Putting a whole story on page one would be a gross misuse of the front page space. Same for valuable sections of certain magazines and newspapers: you kind of want "second fronts" on the inside so that a reader can, at a glance, see all the major stories on a theme together (which is why newspaper sections are more common than they were 100 years ago).

Additionally, although long-form journalism is out of fashion, journalists and editors prefer it (as do readers like me). They'd rather not have to cut a story that has gone through the entire editorial process (since that would be a waste of time and money already spent) and will gladly have the jump of a story wrapped around a three-quarter advertisement in the back, just to get it published.

Finally, most publications try to maintain a very specific ad-editorial content ratio in order to control costs (not just to please the advertisers), so it's not about cramming more ads in with a light dusting of editorial (though the magalogs are exceptions) to make you page through them. More ads are NOT always a good thing. They need to be able to predict the costs, income, and profit from each issue. Jumping up to the next possible page size in order to hold extra ads might cost more than you are able to make in extra revenue if you don't have quite enough extra ads, which puts you at odds with points outlines above. Publications usually increase in size in multiples of four pages, so unless you can also maintain your editorial/ad ratio in the new pages, you're wasting money on (very expensive) paper and ink (particularly if you don't want to have scrap any layout you've arleady done and start putting the puzzle together anew). This is of course a generalization (and there are points here which are not true in all cases). Some pubs will knowingly lose money on many issues knowing they can make up the difference on the Wednesday issue (the grocery coupon issue in many places), the back to school issues, or the fashion seasonals, or the swimsuit issue, or whatever.

So, you combine those concerns, you get a Tetris-like game of making things fit. It's not all about selling ads.
posted by Mo Nickels at 2:00 PM on January 24, 2005

Johnny wins.

My section only has jumps on Sunday because I HATE THEM SO MUCH.
posted by u.n. owen at 3:39 PM on January 24, 2005

Uh, actually, Mo Nickels wins.

Thanks for taking the time to craft that reply, Mo. I think I'm going to distribute it to some of my students if you don't mind. They run a weekly newspaper at a college that lacks a journalism program, and this is a succinct yet holistic explanation of a rather complex concept. Cheers.
posted by damn yankee at 4:58 PM on January 24, 2005

Mo: In journalism classes in school, we also learned that people have short attention spans and most of the time only want to read a "blurb" unless it thoroughly interests them.

Web pages are also set up that way, not just because your eyes will tire and lose place, but that we (generally) only want the *point*. You can test this by having a long story broken up into pieces and see how many users drop off after the 1st, 2nd, 3rd pages.
posted by bikergirl at 5:12 PM on January 24, 2005

Metro newspapers are designed to be read in 20 minutes, and have gotten very popular in Europe, according to this New York Times article.
posted by kirkaracha at 6:02 PM on January 24, 2005

In British newspapers the only stories that "turn" are those on the front page, and that's purely because you need to get so much stuff on there.

It's also exceptionally rare to see it in magazines. I remember being driven daft by it when I started reading US mags.
posted by bonaldi at 6:20 PM on January 24, 2005

One of the Seattle newspapers used to have a thing called the "Back Page" or something like that -- all front page articles that had to jump, jumped to that back page. So no matter what, you could just flip the front section over to read the continuation of the front page articles. It was great, but they don't do it any more -- I suspect they would rather sell full-page ads on that back page instead. It's really annoying that they got rid of such a helpful feature.
posted by litlnemo at 6:29 PM on January 24, 2005

I hate, hate, hate newspapers that insult my intelligence by assuming that I either can't or don't want to read any article longer than a blurb. That's why I find most Metro-type newspapers (as well as USA Today and others of that ilk, including most Gannett rags) to be colossally annoying.

Yes, sometimes I only want to read a bit of a story. That's why newspaper stories are typically written with the most important information at the top. I read what I want and skip to the next story that interests me when I've had my fill.

And kudos to magazines who don't break up their articles. With magazines that have lots of good content and jumps (like the NYT Magazine), reading them is like reading Infinite Jest, with a place-marking finger stuck in the back of the book all the while.
posted by Vidiot at 8:20 PM on January 24, 2005

Mo: In journalism classes in school, we also learned that people have short attention spans and most of the time only want to read a "blurb" unless it thoroughly interests them.

This is an example of the great disservice modern journalism theory is doing to our intellect. By instructing students that we're too distractable or dumb to process a long story, they are creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.

It would be folly to expect each reader to read every piece of editorial content in a newspaper or current-affairs magazine. That's why these publications include reportage and information from a wide variety of fields (sports, medicine, politics, arts, etc). The fact that people don't read every article should not be taken to mean that their attention spans are too short.

As a reader (and I read almost constantly), it is not my "short attention span" that governs my reading style; it is my need to identify and spend time with only the pieces that concern me most, and save the remainder of my precious time for reading the reams of other materials that are going to come my way in a given day.

Like many newspaper readers, I scan the front page, reading the headlines and lead paragraphs of every story. This gives me a general sense of the main points each story makes and a good overview of world happenings that day. When I find the stories that are most interesting and useful to me, I read them through to the end, making the jumps and then going back to A1 for the next front page story. Then I page through the paper reading the B stories and sections in the same manner. This is the beauty of the newspaper format; by presenting information with headlines and facts-up-front, the reader can use the most efficient reading strategy possible.

Does the fact that I read only two paragraphs of some stories mean I have a short attention span? Not supportable, because I then spend my day reading reports, blogs, and work-related materials, and many of my evenings with a novel or nonfiction book, for hours on end.

This idea of "attention span" is one of the primary culprits in the dumbing down of our media. Any group will habituate to what surrounds them. By presenting people shorter and shorter, and shalower and shallower, news stories, many will become used to it and be unprepared to read and digest longer, more nuanced stories. It's not that they can't; it's that they're rarely presented with the opportunity.

And don't even get me started on what the myth of attention span has done to schools. Oh, us poor Americans...we're just too flighty and distractable to handle any information! Thank goodness for the politicians, whose press secretaries make it all seem so easy, and cable news, for telling my all I really need to understand without boring my puny, flash-addicted little brain to tears.
posted by Miko at 6:48 AM on January 25, 2005

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