November 03, 2005

Young Readers Users Producers Minds

Newspapers need to get over the idea of attracting young readers. Why? Because "reader" is an obsolete concept when applied to coming generations.

The new Pew Internet & American Life Project study on teenagers' use of interactive media details the depth of the digital fluency with which young people approach - and shape - their lives today. It also contains one important lesson for journalists: If some day we are going to engage these young people with news as much they now are with music, video and online conversation then we must create and deliver the news in the same digital environment in which they live.

Newspapers and television remain the greatest producers of journalism in this country. Yet, their one-way communication models- we print and distribute, we produce and broadcast - are antiquated mechanisms to a generation that makes no distinction between the pre-Internet era and Web 1.0 or Web. 2.0. The web was always there for them, something that provided entertainment, information, communication and, increasingly, the user-friendly opportunity to now just view media but to be the media.

Says Bernard Luskin, a media psychology professor, in the New York Times:

"These young kids are very sophisticated and phenomenally intuitive," he said. "This is the first generation that's been born into digital life, instead of transitioning into it."

This bodes badly for journalism that relies on a one-way pipe to move from newsroom to the public. As Steve Yelvington points out in this post on E-Media Tidbits, "media usage patterns are established early in life and tend to persist." In other words, today's 16-year-old who is accustomed to the self-control of the remix culture and hangs out in MySpace is not going to become tomorrow's 32-year-old who is satisfied with the morning paper or the nightly news.

Ben Companie, who posts on Corante's Rebuilding Media blog, drives home that point with data gathered by Phil Meyer and this quote from Meyer:

"New media never completely replaces old media. They just drive the old media into more specialized niches. Newspapers will survive, but in radically different form, many less than daily."

What's important - as Meyer pointed out in the Vanishing Newspaper [Read: Reading the Vanishing Newspaper: A Guide.] and as Jeff Jarvis says today - is saving journalism, finding an economically viable means to support the work journalists do. It is becoming clearer and clearer that in the long term newspapers - the nation's biggest employer of journalists - are not going to be able to do that in traditional ways. Jarvis writes:

"Saving journalism isn't about saving jobs or even newspapers. In fact, the goal shouldn't be just to save journalism but to grow it, expand it, explode it, taking advantage of all the amazing new means to gather and share news we have today."

He's a step or two beyond where I would go because I want to save newspapers - and by save them I mean not just as advertising delivery vehicles but as providers of quality journalism - but Jarvis' essential point is dead on. Journalism must morph into new forms, adopt new values that keep the principles of the profession but change its practices and reach out to its future audience - tech-savvy screenagers who see no separation between media creator and media consumer.

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Posted by Tim Porter at November 3, 2005 10:04 AM

"An economically viable means to support the work journalists do"? Start by getting rid of ... paper.

What percentage of your newspaper's capital and operating budgets is spent on newsprint, ink, presses, composing rooms, platemaking, pressrooms, circulation departments and such?

These things are no longer assets -- they're liabilities. Paper is a terrible medium for news: expensive, fragile, dirty and utterly lacking in interactivity, unless you're impressed by half a dozen letters to the editor. It artificially limits the amount of editorial and ad content that can be published.

The interesting question for the next 5-10 years is whether newspapers will find a way to cut themselves free of paper, the economic noose around their neck, or whether other, paper-free media will simply replace newspapers. I'm betting on the latter -- and yes, I think it'll happen that fast.

The tipping point will come when the first big U.S. daily (presumably one with fully amortized presses) goes online Monday-Saturday and puts out a paper edition only on Sundays. Or when the first Top 10 paper simply goes belly up due to newsprint and distribution costs.

Bad news for pressmen, but not necessarily for journalists. Start inventing your future jobs now.

Posted by: Mike on November 3, 2005 11:04 AM

Young people read newspaper. But the newspaper has to be tailored to them. I am not making it. I am one of the inventor of the largest daily newspaper for kids in the World. They are published in France. They have 200 000 subscribers. More than any newspapers in France. And, the French newspaper industry is not on a better shape that the American one.

Those kids are between 5 and 16 years old. There are four versions organized by age groups. Because, as you mentioned, media habits are established early in life, we decided to speak to the very young. It works. They read. In a country where adults read much less that in the US.

I believe strongly on the internet for this audience. But, before saying that the print cannot reach them, it would be nice to try first. We have been fighting for years to convince publishers across the US. They just don't get it (or we are really bad sales person). And when they do, there is no will to do it or do it well.

Young people are not only giving their back to newspaper because the internet is a great medium. But also, because the newspaper industry never tried to take them in consideration. The question is it to late ? If yes, it also to late for their online edition. What it is true for product habits, is true also for brand habits.

Great blog

Posted by: jeff mignon on November 4, 2005 05:10 AM

Good post -- I think the first step here is figuring out what makes two-directional media tick ... the advantage is few online newspapers have exploited the advantages of the internet yet. This leaves a lot of ground to explore.

Getting over journalism's institutional ego is a good idea as well.

Posted by: Joe Murphy on November 5, 2005 02:14 PM
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