At Confab, Editors Told to Focus on Under-18 Readers

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Newspapers can attract – and keep – young readers, but the focus needs to be on teenagers, not young adults, attendees at the Newspaper Association of America Foundation’s Young Reader Conference said Monday.

The conference in St. Louis brought together leaders in newspaper education programs with editors of pages aimed at young readers. The five-day event runs through Wednesday.

“A lot of newspapers focus on young adults 18 and over,” said Margaret Vassilikos, senior vice president and treasurer of the NAA Foundation. “Surveys continuously show that children are making decisions about their reading habits at 13. Eighteen is almost too late.”

The foundation estimates that about 220 newspapers across the country have special teen pages or sections, including many that feature teen writers. Newspapers also use content aimed at teens from syndicated services that are selling to about 800 newspapers across the country.

Jim Abbott, vice president of the foundation, said newspapers need to go beyond specific pages or sections aimed at young readers, “to have something on every page to reflect what those teens are thinking, what they are talking about, how it impacts them.”

Among those at the conference were 13 teenagers who served as fellows at newspapers.

Stephanie McMullen of Virginia Beach, Va., who works at the Virginian-Pilot of Norfolk, Va., said newspapers have to walk a fine line between talking down to young readers and filling the pages with news that younger people don’t find interesting.

“Newspapers need to keep it professional but at the same time lower the standards a little so it’s not always so serious,” she said.

Newspapers have been waging a battle to keep younger readers who tend to gravitate to the Internet for their news. Kaitlin Paulson, a teen fellow from Los Alamos, N.M., said newspapers can learn from the Web.

“It’s easier to access,” she said. “Also, you can get a wider variety than what you get in a newspaper.”

Teen fellow Kiersten Timpe of Reading, Pa., said newspapers need to go to the source – teenagers – to help determine content.

“They can’t assume what teens are interested in,” she said. “They need to ask us directly.”

At the conference, the foundation announced a study of 1,600 18-to-24-year-olds showing that 75 percent who said they read newspaper content aimed at teens when they were 13 to 17 now read their hometown paper at least once a week. By comparison, 44 percent of those in the study who said they did not read teen content are now regular newspaper readers.

Those surveyed by telephone by MORI Research in Minneapolis live in seven communities around the country in which newspapers have long-standing teen sections. Those newspapers include The Kansas City Star; The State Journal-Register in Springfield, Ill.; The Buffalo News; The Virginian-Pilot in Virginia Beach, Va.; The Tribune-Chronicle in Warren, Ohio; the Standard-Examiner in Ogden, Utah; and the Reading (Pa.) Eagle.

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Related E&P story: Study: Newspapers That Attract Teens Retain Them as Adults

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