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With more and more traffic going to mobile, specifically smart phones, every day, is there a future for long form journalism on line? That’s one of the questions a Pew Research Center study tried to answer.

Researchers looked at 125 million cellphone sessions accessing 74,840 articles encompassing 30 news websites over a six-month period. They divided stories by longer content (1,000 words or more) and shorter content and then analyzed time spent and only counted US readers using mobile (but not apps).

The results?

There is a place for long-form content, even on small phones. Readers spend about double the time with long-form content on their cell phones as with short form.

“On small phone-sized screens, the public does not automatically turn away at a certain point in time — or reject digging into a longer-length news article… they tend to stay engaged past the point of where a short-form article would end.” — Pew Research Study

Interestingly, engagement times didn’t seem to change whether the site was mobile-friendly or not.

The study also showed how fleeting content can be for news. It’s unlikely that visitors reading a story on their phone will ever return to that content again. So, if they don’t read the whole thing on the first visit, forget it. And despite the things we’ve all heard about the long-tail of the internet, the vast majority of content was found on the first day it was published.

Some disheartening news about brand loyalty, researchers found that there’s not a lot of repeat business going on.


“An overwhelming majority of both long-form readers (72%) and short-form readers (79%) view just one article on a given site over the course of a month on their cellphone” — Pew Research Center


Facebook drives more traffic to news sites (about 85%) than Twitter (about 15%), but those coming from Twitter spend more time on longer content. Visitors from Twitter links spent an average of 133 second vs. 107 second from Facebook. No real difference for short-form content was noted.

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