OPINION: It’s time to put your news article comprehension to the test

In a world where miscommunication constantly spreads like a virus through our society, it’s time that media consumers, especially in America, aspire to better their efforts. 

Nearly four years ago, Norway’s government-run media publication, the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation, launched an experiment on their beta site, NRKbeta. Their aim was simple: make readers take a short quiz relating to the article they just read before starting World War III in the comments section.

Seems simple, right?

News of the project went viral a few years back, but no new methodology was adopted in Norway’s publication or any other media outlet. Even the creators of the experiment were unsure of the overall success of the quiz-based system, as readers from all over the world took the Norwegian quizzes for fun after hearing word of the innovation. 

“Asking individuals to demonstrate that they know what they’re talking about weeds out many people,” said Ben Lohman, an Orange Coast College Communications Studies professor. “It seems like there are two issues at hand: one is misunderstanding the content, and the other is the famously obnoxious comments sections.”

Beyond being a creative tactic for a news publication, Lohman believes that the quizzes serve a greater purpose for the consumer.

“The quiz had additional impacts beyond cleaning up the comments section. It seemed like people did it to test themselves,” Lohman said. “It’s really a nudge – an indirect suggestion that’s intended to improve behavior but is not a form of punishment.”  

The idea of quizzes in the comments section is great, and serves a meaningful purpose in preventing blind mud-slinging over what could be serious issues -- but we can strive for more.

That’s right, the end goal would be for the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave to not only take a quiz before they comment, but also test their knowledge after finishing each article.

Obviously, we must take certain instances into consideration, such as when one does not need to read the entire article, or stubborn readers simply closing their web browser once a threatening, five-question quiz pops up on their screen. Given the reality that readers may simply close the web page, publications might be forced to incentivize if they are to adopt my suggestion.

The LA Times costs $1 a week for a general membership. Imagine a system where the reader can earn little rewards for taking quizzes, such as a free week of membership access, or even a discount on their membership. In return, the publication – in this example, the LA Times – will receive a massive increase in reader volume, and host a more informed reader base. 

Let’s say the LA Times decides that if a reader gets at least 4/5 on five separate article quizzes, they can get one free week of access.

First and foremost, this will reward loyal subscribers because the more they read, the more benefits they will receive from the publication. For more casual readers, a system where they can consume more media without reaching a must-subscribe-beyond-this-point threshold will heavily increase their chances of becoming a permanent member. 

Publications will benefit from this increased traffic mainly from advertising revenue, but also lock in an increase of paid subscribers for the long run. Yes, they will be giving out promotions here and there, but it is more likely that the reader will either not take advantage of the incentive every time, or possibly not pass enough tests. Worst case scenario, the publication could restrict how often you can earn the incentive, to be something like once or twice a month.

Non-subscription based media wouldn’t be able to levy the quizzes with incentives, but they could still offer them for fun, which would help the reader understand a concept they might’ve missed.

Publications can drive up their traffic while offering a fun and interactive system to readers who would only benefit from being able to test their knowledge.

“It should be the reader who wants to get the most out of what they read, and if the reader doesn’t want that, there’s not much you can do,” Lohman said.

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