Although this might have been going on for a long time, I just noticed it yesterday. Two of the three “MSM” news paper sites to which I subscribe—the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal—are providing “reading times” for most of their articles. See below; I’ve put arrows by the times:
The Wall Street Journal does it, too (for long pieces they just note “long read”):
These times presumably allow a reader to judge whether he or she wants to or has time to read a piece. I guess if the time is too long, you don’t read it.
Of course this raises a number of questions. First, how do they estimate the reading time? Presumably it’s based on the number of words in the piece, divided by a “standard” reading time of words/minute.
I consider myself a fairly fast reader (not always a good thing when I’m reading prose that needs to be savored), so I took one article from the NYT to test the reading time for me. It’s this one (click to read), estimated at 6 minutes reading time.
Excluding the ancillary material at the end, which are notices about other unrelated articles, it took me 2 minutes and 23 seconds. Although I am a fast reader, I am not that fast, and so the timings must be directed at those who read fairly slowly.
The second question is also obvious: Why are the newspapers doing this?
I will try not to be curmudgeonly here (and will fail), but it seems to me that you should choose which pieces to read based on whether their title interests you. If the article engages you, you read on to the end. If it doesn’t, of you have other pressing issues to attend to, you stop reading and move on.
It appears, in an age when there are a gazillion online sites competing for your time, that this is the way some news sites have chosen to help harried readers decide what to read—a way based solely on the title and the reading time. Perhaps that’s better than the alternative of using only the title, but it may be worse than the alternative of reading based on the title and reading the whole article because it’s interesting and informative, or giving up if you’re bored.
But if you’re going to use these times to decide what to read, you have to know your reading speed. How many readers have matched the estimated reading time with their own reading time? Would you choose what to read based on estimated reading times?