Newspapers And Youth Readership – Does This Make Any Sense?

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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.


  1. Hah, so funny! I worked for a while on, errr, websites for the papers of a national newspaper chain owned by a big Quebec company. But I refuse to name names. 😉
    Anyway, I was initially surprised (but eventually not) at the common question from editors, publishers and others in the traditional print side of the business: “won’t beefing up our website eat into our circulation numbers?” What?!? These people really did not get that there were a million different options available to their readers, and if their content wasn’t going to be in the form that people wanted to consume it, they would simply find other content.
    So Mitch, if you’re asking “don’t these people get it”, I can tell you from working with them, they don’t. At least there are a lot of them who don’t. Same as the folks in the music industry who still think they are in the business of selling CDs. Change is scary to lots of people when it threatens their power. We who are promoting new models need to remember that sometimes, I know I do.

  2. The real question for them to confront is – what is the value of a newspaper in a world where data is nearly omnipresent? What can a newspaper do better than the web, MySpace, Twitter, IM, SMS, etc.? It’d be an interesting marketing exercise to think about.
    Newspapers aren’t current – by the time they roll the preses, the news may be up to 24 hours old, which is ancient in the instant world of the Internet. They’re bulky, inconvenient, and messy.
    So what do they have working FOR them?

  3. I have worked for a major newspaper before and I understand the challenges the industry face. I had suggested at one time that new sections be created as inserts to specific target markets.
    A subscriber would be able to choose which sections they wish included, be it “Technology”, “Live Music”, etc.
    Of course there is substantial cost for the physical inserting of the sections, but survival of an industry may depend on it.
    Also, Mitch – I agree with your point about concentrating on the current subscribers/readers, but if the industry doesn’t attract young readers, then it will die.
    Sounds dire eh?
    The thing that that newspapers has going is that it is a strong and true medium with a rich history. Television isn’t going away any time soon, either is radio. I believe newspapers will be around much longer than some would expect.

  4. Mitch, I’ve been in Vancouver and Las Vegas three out of the last four weeks so I’m just getting caught up on my reading and to add another thought to those you’ve already received. In the March issue of “WIRED” Magazine there’s a short little box titled “Got a Second?” and it lists things you can do in 15 seconds, 30 seconds, 2 minutes, 5 minutes and 15 minutes. Great stuff and it reminded me of what you talked about in your post. If newspapers (and all conventional news media for that matter) aren’t careful they may not only be losing the 20-Something Market with a 20 second attention span but everyone else who are becoming time poor and weary and who are now selecting and processing vast amounts of information in snack sized packaging.

  5. I think that newspapers do have a lot of opportunities. I still read the Montreal Gazette every morning. I guess as a new media professional, I see so many amazing opportunities and gaps that it’s surprising.
    It can’t be easy if readership and advertising is slipping to be looking into more “digital” ways to gain readership… that’s gotta be a tough sell to upper management.
    Then again, what’s the alternative?
    It reminds me of that quote: “if you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less.”

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