Shoptalk: Newspapers Must Work Harder to Attract Younger Readers

By: Daniel M. Johnson

I love autumn: the smells, the colors, football, a feeling of ‘togetherness.’ As a circulation sales manager, I look forward to the excitement of increased sales, both in home delivery and single copy, as the vacation season winds down and consumers settle in and prepare for the winter months ahead.  For most newspaper companies, the fall also represents the start of a new school year and an opportunity to reach arguably the newspaper industry’s most important audience—young readers.

Developing new readers must be a number one priority for the newspaper industry.  Millennials make up the largest living generation in the United States; larger than the baby boom generation and three times the size of Gen X.  They represent more than $200 billion in buying power. According to Ypulse Lifeline, 33 percent of millennials get their news from printed newspapers (still!) and 62 percent get their news from a news website.

Millennials have an appetite for the kind of relevant, trustworthy news and information that only newspapers can provide. They learned to become critical thinkers and to question the information they read at a young age. This is why they are such a perfect audience for newspapers.

Newspaper companies need to become more strategic in how they reach young readers, particularly college readers.  There are several good examples to follow. USA Today College features a website and a Facebook page with more than 65,000 followers.   Their Twitter account has more than 37,000 followers. The website features articles of interest to college students, as well as user-contributed content.

The Wall Street Journal continues to offer a strong educational presence across college campuses. They do not offer free papers on campus and generally push students to digital subscriptions. In addition, they conduct campus-wide events that educate instructors and students on how to best utilize the WSJ in the classroom.

News Corp is also venturing into the education field at the elementary level. Two years ago, in partnership with AT&T, they launched Amplify, a K-12 tablet-based learning system. News Corp boasts that 200,000 educators and more than 3 million students are currently using Amplify. While the curricula are not necessarily newspaper-based, this initiative provides News Corp access to a large and crucial audience that they hope will be future readers of News Corp products.

Other newspapers have also launched innovative NIE programs that are sustainable and revenue-generating. The Toronto Star began offering epaper (The Toronto Star digital replica) as a cost effective alternative to deeply-discounted print subscriptions.  As part of this subscription, students and teachers get full access to thestar.com. In addition, The Star invested in four newspaper curriculum-based workbooks and provided these to the teachers as part of the cost of the epaper subscription. While The Star did see a slight drop in school subscriptions when they transitioned to an all-digital program, the decline was less than expected.  This provides a modern and relative way to introduce newspapers to young students.

The West Australian in Osborne Park, Australia conducted an innovative experiment with Generation Z (born between 1995-2009), where 12 students between the ages of 11 and 17 joined the editorial staff in editing a Sunday edition. The students decided which stories would run and where and provided commentary on the various issues in the news. The students also had the entire opinion and letters page to themselves. This experiment provided incredible insight for The West Australian. It blew up assumptions on both sides. The newspaper sold an additional 24,000 copies that day and the project was well-received by readers. There are plans to expand the project this year.

Newspapers must continue to invest in innovative ways to reach young readers.  Journalism is as important to young people, if not more, than it ever has been. As generations become more and more saturated with information, they will seek out more reliable sources. For these reasons, it is important that newspapers continue to maintain a tradition of in-depth, reliable journalism.

Daniel M. Johnson is vice president of business development for CirTech, Inc. Visit bit.ly/1l7WIZy to read this article in its entirety.

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Published: October 10, 2014

One thought on “Shoptalk: Newspapers Must Work Harder to Attract Younger Readers

  • October 10, 2014 at 5:07 pm
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    Daniel, great column! I am in the newspaper business. I have three sons. I also have four newspapers delivered to the house daily. I watched by boys grow up on print. First it was the comics – which they still read of course but, over the years, I watched them migrate to other sections. I watched them acquire knowledge, which is power, and then use it to tweak their siblings, which is natural. I will say this, what the newspaper industry has done from a marketing perspective to attract younger readers is a travesty. I am not sure where our collective inability to toot our own horn comes from but I suspect it has something to do with the business we are in – we are charged to be on the outside looking in – to always be objective. To tell people how great we are and why they need us is, well, subjective. We must find a way to get around this thinking and let people first know how much fun we can be and second that is our charge to keep a democratic process healthy. It’s important.

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