Reaching Young Adults In The ‘Burbs

By: Mark Fitzgerald

Last February, when the Daily Herald launched its online community Web site Beep aimed at 21- to 34-year-olds in its suburban Chicago market, it hinted that a print version would follow in a few weeks.

Beep, the free weekly, finally hit the streets last Wednesday, in time for a mid-July heat wave.

Why such a lag in getting the print product out, even as Beep the Web site was growing in audience and content? The reasons say a lot about the habits general interest daily newspapers must unlearn as they develop products for young adults.

One especially ingrained habit is the daily?s distribution model.

When Beep began talking distribution with the Daily Herald?s parent, Paddock Publications, the circulation people looked at it as just another product to drop on the streets by the dawn?s early light — and at the usual spots like convenience stores, McDonald?s, Dunkin? Donuts.

?But what we?re thinking is X-sports Fitness, bars, clubs,? Beep Editor Kurt Gessler said, ?Man, these places aren?t even open at 5 a.m. It?s a completely different distribution model.?

Some 30,000 copies of Beep are dropped at 527 distribution points, including 200 distinctive orange boxes. Beep distributes in a somewhat wider geographic area than the 151,112-circulation Daily Herald.

Beep is also a different editorial model for Paddock. It?s a print product that serves the Web site.

?It?s Beep Light,? Gessler says, comparing the tabloid to the site. ?Right from the get-go, the goal of the print product has been to promote the Web site. We?re a Web site first and foremost.?

The first print issue of Beep — which introduces itself on the cover as ?the what-to-do weekly for the suburbs…where the readers truly rule? — makes that abundantly clear. One page is devoted to the 24 full-time bloggers on the site, opining on topics ranging from sex (Sara Z?s ?Morning After?) to food (John Schuler?s ?I Hate Broccoli?) to video games (Sean Kelly?s ?Tokens Only?).

?The stories you clicked on the most, the polls you voted on, the discussion you?re posting on — that’s what made the paper,? one article tells readers.

Beep, Editor Gessler says, is very different from RedEye, the free tabloid daily that the Chicago Tribune created to reach young adults. ?For putting a paper in commuters? hands Monday through Friday, they?re perfect,? he says. ?We?re about where to go, what to do. We?re not as topical.?

Beep is another ?Made in Medill? product of the Media Management Project Class at Northwestern University?s journalism school. The idea is to create an online community among suburban young adults.

Gessler says the site has attracted 1,500 registered members, and is getting 350,000 page views a month.

?The good news is that almost 80% of those (members) are directly in the demographic we wanted, and that?s before we started the print edition,? he added. ?I think the print (version) is going to be a very powerful marketing tool for the site.?

While the Chicago Reader distributes an abbreviated version of its weekly paper in the suburbs, no one is doing exactly what Beep is: reaching the Chicago-area hip who live in Schaumburg rather than on the city?s lakefront.

?There are good clubs and restaurants out here, but nobody?s ever quantified it before,? Gessler said, who was born and raised in the Chicago ?burbs. ?There was stuff ten miles from my house I didn?t even know existed.?

Under the headline ?Think there?s nothing to do in the ?burbs?,? the inaugural print edition says things have changed in the land beyond O?Hare: ?Just when you though the ol? Friday night cover-band-and-Jaeger-bomb combo wasn?t cutting it anymore, the ?burbs are looking better than ever. Trust us.?

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