Told you so: Stop trying to fix the article; it's not broken

By Sarah Lacy , written on December 17, 2012

From The News Desk

There are so many problems and annoyances in life that innovative designers and new platforms can make better. But as I've argued a few times, adding multi-media bells and whistles to basic news reporting doesn't generally wind up as a big business.

Why? Because the humble article is still pretty damn efficient at conveying information in a way that people can consume on whatever medium they want, wherever they want. If the article were conceived today, we'd probably hail it as the model of simplicity and elegant design.

As I said when I wrote about Circa back in October, the article has morphed throughout its history, but the reason it's still basically columns of text is that the format simply isn't broken. I think Circa is interesting for other reasons, as I wrote back then. But there's just no evidence that people have a problem reading an article on mobile devices.

At the time, I was going off my gut feeling, and from watching how many of our own long form articles are read on mobile devices. But Pew Research Center has released a study that backs that hunch up.

It turns out Millennials aren't some weird mythical beast that can't read. They access news on iPads and tablets at the same rates as 30-somethings and 40-somethings. In fact, nearly every demographic except seniors reading news on mobile and tablets at about the same percentages. Income, gender, education and -- as long as you are under 50 years old -- age don't seem to make much of a difference in how you want to read news.

"Read" is the key word there. It turns out Millennials don't want to be read to; they don't want to watch videos; and they don't want colorful, animated graphics. By and large they like to actually read words in column form the same way generations before have done. Nearly 60 percent of everyone under the age of 50 -- including Millennials -- said they'd rather have a "print-like experience" over flashy futuristic features. The report reads that "Those under 40 prefer the print-like experience to the same degree as those 40 and over." In other words: Just because iPads can produce a flashier experience than words elegantly and cleanly laid out on a page, doesn't mean readers want it.

As the Atlantic pointed out covering the report, the only big demographic outlier is that seniors still read print. Newspapers may be dying, but the article is not.