Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
March 30, 2007 7:35 AM

Newspapers And Youth Readership - Does This Make Any Sense?

I saw this news item from Editor & Publisher: Papers to Tackle Youth Readership Puzzle At Big Conference.

The news item reads:

"Beginning Sunday, March 25, some 400 publishers, editors, journalists and experts from 74 countries will meet in Washington, D.C., to confront a global problem: how to get young people to read a newspaper.

This year's World Young Reader Conference is the seventh put on by the World Association of Newspapers (WAN), the Paris-based global industry group representing 18,000 newspapers and 76 national newspaper association. The conference is sponsored by the foundation established by the largest U.S. association, the Newspaper Association of America (NAA), as well as some big American chains."

And this quote from Jim Abbott, vice president of the NAA Foundation:

"We introduced the idea of having teenagers come in, and actually talk to us. After all, this is the market that everyone is trying to reach. So Tuesday afternoon, at the end of the conference, we have a program called 'Straight From the Source,' where the teens lay it on the line, and tell us what needs to be done if we want to reach that market."

MySpace, Facebook, Tivo, iPod, PSP, Xbox 360, mobile devices, Twitter... and newspapers? The only thing youthful about that list is how I am reminded of that "One of these things does not belong" song from Sesame Street. I would have guessed that just getting young people to read print would be enough of a long haul, but to read newspapers?

I wonder if we are loosing touch sometimes. I wonder is we're just fooling ourselves into a false state of "they should be enjoying what we were enjoying when we were young." New media is coming out faster than any of us could have predicated. These media - and their success - will be based on the quality of content and how advertisers (or marketers) make it work.

If young people are not reading newspapers (and I can understand why this is happening), shouldn't the newspaper industry start focusing on who is reading their papers, secure that consumer and create a much-needed value-add in the industry to keep it sustainable?

Theory on content: if newspapers create new and engaging ways for their constituents to connect with their brand, the readership will grow. Looking at online opportunities that compliment the printed form (instead of simply scraping print content in minimal form and teasing readers to read the rest in print or subscribe to a digital format) is the route they should be uncovering. Allowing citizens to be journalists. Creating environments where individuals can upload their personal or business awards and accolades. Getting hyper-local with content that speaks to a specific region. Engaging in a customized online presence that draws a reader in and leans them toward more in-depth reporting in print.

There are many countless ways to grow the newspaper industry. Trying to understand how to get young people to read newspapers shouldn't be off the list... but it should not be so close to the top.

By Mitch Joel