February 03, 2003

The Lost Generation

It's not news that U.S. newspapers penetrate an increasingly smaller percentage of the population each year, but perhaps it is surprising how worthless the printed product is to the generation of 18-to-34-year-olds.

In an anecdote-rich piece today, Newsday declares that the growing distaste of younger people for newspapers "is seen by many as a crisis that threatens the long-term survival of some celebrated news organizations."

The story reports on inertia-breaking efforts by big media companies to create products that will entice this lost generation - the Chicago Tribune's RedEye tabloid, "alternative" throwaway papers from Gannett and Knight Ridder, a Topeka Capital-Journal music web site.

Demographics expert Peter Francese, who lectured publishers last month on the need for service, context and dialogue, said these experimental departures from the one-size-fits-all news product" are laudable because "there isn't one community to serve. It's gone. ... It's now a matter of serving niches rather than trying to be all things to all people."

But John Morton, perhaps the most frequently quoted newspaper industry analyst, is skeptical. He told Newsday: "You've got to bear in mind everything the newspaper industry has tried in the past. There have been programs of putting newspapers in the classroom and special pages and sections aimed at the young. They've pumped up entertainment and sports and celebrity folderol, and none of it has worked."

Here are some numbers:

 Only 33 percent of U.S. families led by someone age 25 to 34 bought a daily newspaper in 2001 compared with 63 percent in 1985.

 Nationally, 41 percent of young adults read a daily newspaper last year.

 Between 1986 and 2002, the share of newsweekly (Time, etc.) readers under the age of 35 shrank from 44 percent to 28 percent.

The generation prefers magazines, the Internet, radio and TV to newspapers. One anecdote in the Newsweek story highlights the technology gap between young people and newspapers but also emphasizes the cultural divide between the Watergate-era Boomers running newsrooms and the Monica-gate Nexters who view one talking head that same as the next.

"Meghan Attreed, in her first year at Hofstra University in Hempstead, admits to wanting the news with a large dose of entertainment. The 18-year- old from Connecticut is a fan of 'The Daily Show' on the Comedy Central cable channel. 'It's entertaining but you still get the basic news,' she said referring to the spoof of newscasts from ABC, CBS and NBC. 'You will know there's an attack on Iraq but [the anchor] makes light of it.'

"Attreed, who works at the campus radio station, also routinely checks out newspaper Web sites, though she rarely reads the dailies themselves. 'Young people, like me, are used to things going fast because we were brought up in the technology age. Why sift through the entire newspaper when I can just go online and get it [a news story] in 30 seconds,' she said."

 Newsday Why Won't Johnny Read?

Posted by Tim Porter at February 3, 2003 08:47 AM