By: Erin Whalen
Newspaper Web Sites Get Teen Spirit
by Erin Whalen
It’s not exactly like getting a finicky youngster to eat his peas,
but the tactics newspapers use to get teens to swallow their
daily dose of useful information – from homework advice to CD
reviews – follow the same basic philosophy: Make lots of noise.
Many have created teen-oriented Internet sites, in hopes of
getting kids hooked on a healthy news and views habit.
‘Papers have this age gap we’re trying to combat,’ says Greg
Matthews, the online editor for CopleyNet, the Internet arm of the
Chicago Newspapers Group, which publishes 22 papers. ‘We felt that
if there was a way to make stories accessible to readers it would
increase [site] traffic and also cross-promote [the papers].’
Matthews is the proprietor of the Web Street Cafe (found either at webstreetcafe.com or by linking to it from the Copley papers’
sites). The cafe idea, which originated with previous Online Editor
Emily Neal and went live in April, focuses on teen-authored news
and opinion pieces that are largely pulled from the ‘Teen Voice’
section of The Herald-News in Joliet, Ill. Jan Larsen, regional
editor for The Herald-News, created the first teen board of
high-school writers more than two years ago with Managing Editor
Lee Trigg to develop teen-generated content for the paper and the
‘It’s the old journalism rule, if you see yourself in the paper
you read it,’ she says. ‘Kids weren’t seeing themselves. Now they
Enter the Web Street Cafe, where visitors are greeted with a steaming
cup of java. They can visit ‘Our Two Cents Worth,’ and read opinion
pieces such as the one that proclaims, ‘We are lied to more than the
truth is told to us’; check out movie reviews (thumbs down for
‘Coyote Ugly”); get homework help; or post a message to a ‘Speak
Out Forum.’ The site design suggests a darkened hangout for young
voices who won’t be overly edited.
Other interesting teen sites include the Tulsa (Okla.) World’s
‘Satellite’ link (http://www.tulsaworld.com) and the Charleston,
S.C., Post and Courier’s ‘Ink’ site (http://www.charleston.net).
Perhaps the most popular of all is ’20 Below’ at MaineToday.com,
the online subsidiary of the Blethen Maine Newspapers group that
owns the Portland Press Herald, among other papers.
Teen-generated content is indeed the key to a site’s success, agrees
Melissa Kim Phillips, online content developer of ’20 Below.’ The
two-year-old site (formerly known as ‘Teen Go’) has had a threefold
increase in hits in the past year, and is now averaging about 60,000
hits a month – in a state with only about 124,000 teen-agers.
Part of its success, says Phillips, is that ‘we’ve given kids
different ways to react’ to what they see on the site or in the
paper, from providing disposable cameras for an online photo gallery,
to having regular meetings with teens over pizzas or coffee to
discuss their writing (as well as ways to improve the site).
’20 Below’ lists links for poetry, news, CD reviews by the ‘Fresh
Tracks’ crew, and showcases essays on high school life, where teens
declare that life ‘has turned into a popularity contest’ and that
‘debate and reason are nonexistent’ when dealing with teachers. Poems
dealing with love and loss are juxtaposed with humorous looks at
Community Coordinator Jessica Tomlinson says papers looking to
develop teen sites should be guided by two golden rules: Let teens
set the agenda and ‘remember that what’s on the radar screen for
teens is different’ from the adult community.
Phillips agrees, saying that teen issues are often ‘neglected’ or
written about only through adult eyes. ‘This community was out there, waiting,’ she says. ‘We just tapped into something that kids want.’
Erin Whalen was a summer intern at E&P.
(c) Copyright 2000, Editor & Publisher