Critical Thinking: How Can Newspapers Boost Readership Among the 18-30 Age Group?

By: Heidi Kulicke

Q:How can news organizations boost numbers with young adults in the 18-30 age group — the category traditionally found to have the smallest readership? 


Rob Jepson

23, senior in political science with a minor in journalism at Utah State University. Jepson will be a senior this fall. After graduation he hopes to work in public relations and marketing.

A:Getting 18-to 30-year-olds to read the news is like trying to start a fire without matches. The fact is, most of that demographic just isn’t interested in what’s going on in their state, country, or planet — yet.

The good news is that news is awesome. If you can get somebody to tune into the news just long enough to discover that it’s pertinent to them, they’ll be hooked for life. The struggle, then, lies not in adapting the news to a disinterested generation, but rather sparking the interest of a generation that doesn’t yet know what it’s missing.

So, here’s my idea: Put the news where they are. Obviously 18-to 30-year-olds won’t go out of their way to pick up something they don’t already need. So instead, newspapers have to put the news in front of them where they can discover it.

Put it in McDonald’s (or any other restaurant). You’ll find our generation goes there to chat just as much as we do to eat. Put it in city buses — people don’t talk to each other on those anyway and would jump at the chance to hide behind something for 15 minutes.

Put it in the universities. Let me rephrase: Please, please, please put it in the universities — for free. If you can get a few to start reading, even if it costs you money up-front, you’ll create a generation of consumers by capitalizing on the insurmountable power of trend, and the revenue will follow.

The fact is our age group is impressionable, and also eager to impress. If you create the spark by making the paper accessible, the firestorm will ensue.


Pat Ivey

60, circulation director, The Durango (Colo.) Herald. Ivey is a publishing veteran with 37 years in the industry. During his career, he has managed circulation and production operations for R.L. Polk & Co. and Detroit Media Partnership. He has two daughters in their 20s and is also an active city councilman.

A: Among the many challenges our industry faces is engaging young adults in the core newspaper, the traditional print edition. Let’s cut to the chase and get at why the 18-30 age group is not on board.

In their formative years, our sons and daughters mastered new tools of evolving technology that we who grew up in television’s infancy could hardly imagine. Their childhood experience is vastly different. They are truly a high-tech generation, firsthand experts on its many devices. We older adults have played catch-up. Adapting to the Internet, we’ve adjusted to how instant information has changed commerce and our careers. We’ve learned how social media can connect us with family and relations, and reconnect us with faraway people we knew long ago. We’ve seen the broad scope of social media’s power: from magnifying the trivial to significance, to spurring civil outrage and unrest.

The 18-30 age group is desensitized and not easily impressed. They’ve seen everything. With three-dimensional high definition and instant facts at their fingertips, what possible interest could they have in looking at a newspaper? Still photos, bold graphics, and clever headlines may grab their attention. They will pause and look. But if the story is yesterday’s news or it doesn’t spark their emotions, don’t expect much more.

OK, what can we do to reach them? Run stories that share real-life experiences others in their demographic have had, conveying a sincere regard for the interests of young adults. Invite their comments, print them, and don’t edit out those that may surprise or shock us. Finally, let’s give them fresh stories they will yearn to share with friends.

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4 thoughts on “Critical Thinking: How Can Newspapers Boost Readership Among the 18-30 Age Group?

  • July 20, 2011 at 2:13 pm

    I would suggest a comprehensive program that starts with a partnership with the paper companies. Most mills are very supportive of the use of paper in print, direct mail, etc.. They have funding and the experience as well as tons of research. This market is highly mobile, but also is the first or second generation that is living, fully I might add in the Post Digital age. Please call me if this idea hits home, I would like to be involved.

  • July 21, 2011 at 3:02 pm

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Print media needs to integrate with — not switch to — new technologies if they want to increase 18-30 readership of their print materials. There’s this false dichotomy print media has created that the print products and electronic products live separately. It shouldn’t be that way. Instead of pouring all effort into a separate website, put effort into integrating it with the print product. QR codes, for example, could allow smartphone users to bring up a photo gallery, graphic, or video related to a story while they’re reading the physical version. Don’t just print the address of your website “for more info” — this is so stupid. And I’ve seen QR codes integrated with some newspapers… but on their websites! This is borderline useless. If the print media can utilize new technology to link their existing print and digital products, I think they’ll have an easier time gaining and keeping 18-30 readers.

  • August 6, 2011 at 11:38 am

    As Marketing Director of Santa Barbara News-Press I was given permission to go on campus at Santa Barbara City College and UCSB. A copy of the daily paper, an easel, magic marker and photographer were used to find out why studens were or were not reading our publication. Releases were signed. Positive comments were used in a testimonial campaign. Their words and their faces to talk to their peers. TV, door hangers, print ads in college newspapers, radio spots, booth at new student orientation were utilized to increase subscriptions. A discounted student rate had already been created. 300% subscriber growth in that younger demographic. Yes, we started with a small base but it grew.

  • August 20, 2011 at 4:55 pm

    This tool has been in our hands for years unfortunately, instead of developing it as a stepping stone to lifelong readership of print media it has been abused and used as a means to inflate circ numbers. By the time someone has been through 12 years of school they are already set in their reading habits for life, you may convert a few, but nowhere near the number we need to turn the country back into a nation of readers. We need to place newspapers in the hands of school students, starting in Kindergarten, plant the reading bug early and reinforce it continually through graduation. I do not have the source of this set of bullet points if anyone can help with that please do. Strategies that can be Implemented in the Classroom to Improve Student Engagement and Academic Achievement: • Utilize classroom “Engaged Learning” activities • Use newspaper/magazine reading/research activities • Use appropriate computer software for skills & motivation • Engage students reciprocal teaching & imagery techniques to increase reading comprehension • Utilize “reading apprentice” programs for content areas • Provide incentives for participation in school activities, e.g. contributions to the school newspaper,clubs activity, etc. • Use play scripts for interactive classroom reading • Read and discuss current events in the classroom • Encourage students to keep a daily journal • Allow students to read to younger students • Use group projects to expand language and writing skills in a social context • Utilize peer or cross-age mentoring/tutoring This also, again I have lost the source: The newspaper is a unique publication in that it is updated daily. Newspapers may be donated to a school or can be purchased at a nominal cost. Teachers can be creative and motivate students at all reading levels with activities using the daily newspaper, There are many news articles/topics suitable for middle and/or high school student learning, vocabulary enhancement and reading, practice. The newspaper is also an excellent tool for reading across the curriculum. Activities might include small group discussion, journal writing, letters to the editor, illustrations or cartoons, creation of advertisements, and many other experiences. Articles from popular news magazines can also be utilized for reading practice.


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