Saturday, December 15, 2012

WEEKEND ROUND-UP: THE EYES, THE PRIZE, AND THE PRESENT

FOLLOW THE EYE: The Poynter Institute, a Florida school for media and journalism, last month released the results of a study about tablet users' engagement with media. Using eye-tracking technology to study how people read stories on a iPad or other similar device, the research showed that "the way readers select a story influences the likelihood that they will read to completion," and emphasized "the importance of storytelling forms that keep the finger—and the brain—satisfied." Some of the more general research findings are intuitive, while others pointed to specific ways to keep readers hooked: "There was an average point at which people were likely to either commit, or to stop reading a story. Calling it the 'bail out point,' (78.3 seconds of reading), researchers suggest this might be a good benchmark for establishing a 'gold coin' to keep people reading—like a link, a question, a simple pullout quote or an informative visual element that keeps the reader engaged about halfway through a long story."  

GOLDEN BAOBOB PRIZE: As a kid, were you ever read -- or did you read yourself -- any children's stories from Africa? If you're like me, you may have read a couple picture books that had African characters in them, but rarely if ever that were fully African stories. The Golden Baobob Prize, which is awarded annually, has as its goal "to inspire the creation of African stories that children and young adults the world over will love." I like the model of a prize; it may or may not induce any talented authors to write a story they otherwise wouldn't, but it raises the profile and public esteem of prize-winning stories and authors, and legitimizes storytelling as a pursuit.  

THE EXISTENTIAL PRESENT (TENSE): A passage I like from a New York Magazine article on Kathryn Bigelow and Marc Boal's new film "Zero Dark Thirty," about the killing of Bin Laden: "Most strikingly, Boal and Bigelow chose to keep Zero Dark Thirty as in-the-moment as possible. Virtually all we know of Maya and Dan is what we see them do onscreen. Their backgrounds, their personal lives, whatever decisions led them to the Islamabad prison where we first encounter them, are left for us to fill in, or—perhaps more to the point—to dismiss as irrelevant. 'Everyone says "backstory" like if you don’t have it, you’re missing a pillar of the house,' says Boal. 'I’m not a huge Freudian. When I meet somebody, I’m not interested in what they were doing when they were 6. I like characters that are defined in the very existential present tense.'"

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