Newspapers Appraise Teen Market

By: Lucia Moses

Newspaper execs are twisting themselves into knots, trying to figure out how to make themselves appealing to young adults. But in their obsession with the 18-to-34-year-old age bracket, are they overlooking another important slice of the youth market, namely, teens?

The focus on those 18 to 34 is understandable: Most newspaper-readership studies have focused on the 18-and-up audience, while information on teen media usage is skimpy. And the buzz created by the youth tabloids launched by Chicago’s two dailies last fall has only added to the frenzy.

The Newspaper In Education program hasn’t done much to help papers reach teens. NIE is more adaptable to elementary and middle-school classroom learning, so that’s where it’s concentrated, said Christine N. Wood, who directs the Newspaper Association of America’s GOLD (Growth Opportunities by Leveraging Diversity) project.

In the end, Wood said, 18 to 34 “seems like an easier nut to crack.” Nevertheless, she sees growing interest by newspapers in teens.

With more than $155 billion annually in estimated spending power, the nation’s 24 million teens not only have money to spend but also have a big say in their parents’ spending.

New research might help papers discover the potential of this age group. Belden Associates recently finished a study for the NAA of teens’ media, advertising, and spending habits, which it released at the annual NAA Marketing Conference, held here last week.

And new findings by Melville, N.Y.-based Newsday suggest NIE may indeed be a worthy investment. In what may be the first research of its kind, it found that young adults who were exposed to its NIE programs, including in high school, were far more likely to be newspaper readers.

If marketers weren’t sure what to do with all this information, the conference supplied plenty of people, teenage and otherwise, with ideas. Lou Pearlman, chairman and CEO of Trans Continental Companies Inc. and the marketing whiz behind *NSync and the Backstreet Boys, suggested fanzines and partnerships with TV networks such as MTV and Nickelodeon. Keep in mind that today’s teens are more independent, more multicultural in worldview, and more cynical than their forebears, said Stephanie Testa, a senior marketer for Universal Parks and Resorts here.

Concurrent with the conference, GOLD — which is aimed at improving the industry’s reach with underserved audiences — conducted an advertising symposium rife with ideas on cashing in on youths, especially teens. Those attending heard from a panel of teens who decried what they saw as media portrayals of kids as troublemakers who don’t read papers. While they get news from many sources, some said they turned to papers for national and international news. “We look at everything because we are like sponges,” explained one boy.

Offering evidence that kids are interested in more than the latest music, one girl credited newspapers with helping her do homework: “We have such a variety of interests, you can’t just pinpoint it. So the broader, the better.”

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