The Appeal of Different News to Younger Audiences
While the print newspaper industry has been losing readership due to Internet news and other mediums, as declining circulation figures have shown, it faces yet another problem. Over the years, fewer and fewer young people have been reading print newspapers. According to villagevoice.com, only 16 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds read a newspaper daily in 2000. Reasons abound that account for such startling statistics, and examples can be found in both local and national newspapers, as can instances of efforts made to specifically reach the younger generations of readers.
These young people, especially teenagers, tend to share certain characteristics and values. Many teen magazines and TV channels have noticed this and thus focus on entertainment, fashion, body, sports, money, shopping, video games, health, school, and society to meet the interests of this age group. For instance, Teen People magazine includes sections titled "Star," "Your Life," and "Fashion and Beauty." However, many newspapers will not dedicate a lot of time or space on articles pertaining to these topics, as the majority of them do not intrigue or even apply to older readers. The 53-year-old reader, at the average age of those who read newspapers, will probably not be as enthralled with reviews for the latest Playstation game as a younger reader would.
As one of these younger readers, I can understand that national papers might seem unappealing in size and content. Personally I am intimidated by the size of The Wall Street Journal, in both the number and width of the pages. From reading a few of the first articles, I found that the main section covers events well and answers the basic questions as I would expect from such a well-known paper; I trust the reputation of the paper and I trust that, because it is so well-reputed, its coverage is sufficient.
Most of the headlines included terms relating to business or random events. These included stories about the continuing Enron trial, inflation in the economy, and Hewlett-Packard's net income. What does a kid like me need to know about business and finance? Most young people do not have bills to pay or own stocks.
And its "entertainment," which was one page at the back of the "Personal Journal" section on May 17, consisted an article whose title was in Indian and one about a clarinetist I have never heard. None of them interested me because I hardly had basic knowledge of what they were about. Usually I am interested in the arts/entertainment parts of newspapers because they include music and movie reviews and comics, but WSJ's arts section failed to interest me and would probably not garner that of my peers. The Wall Street Journal itself dubs its offerings "International and national news with a business and financial perspective." Basically every component of this description is something that the typical young person would not be interested in.
The articles in The New York Times interest me because, like The Wall Street Journal, I feel that if a story is placed in such a prestigious paper, then it must be somewhat significant and applicable to my life. Its articles answer all questions I could have. Also, I appreciate its content, which is less financial and more about world events. I hate creating opinions or making decisions without being fully informed, and I dislike the idea of things happening around me without me knowing about them. For instance, "Obstacles Test African Force In Grim Darfur" in the May 17th issue interested me because I have heard so much about Sudan and the strife its people are experiencing, and I want to know more about the issue in case I could do anything about it. NYT makes no effort to reach younger readers; like The Wall Street Journal, it must reach a broad audience, and the majority of print newspaper readers are older.
Also, The Times is known for having an affluent and educated audience, and so a lot of the articles are written with this audience in mind. Some of the language is so ostentatious that it is obvious stories are written with an educated audience in mind; the very first sentence in the May 17 "Arts" article "Brows High to Middling In Annual Rite of Cannes" sprawls, "Every year you hear the same complaints: from purists who accuse the Cannes Film Festival of selling out its tradition of artistic prestige for the glamour and lucre of Hollywood, and from the more commercially minded scenesters who wonder why Cannes lavishes so much attention on esoteric, difficult films bound for an ever-shrinking audience of cognoscenti." It is a mouthful if you can even pronounce all of the terms, much less know what a "scenester" is.
Local weeklies tend to have a more alternative swing to them because they appeal to a certain minority audience but not one big enough to generate the funds to be a daily. Thus, a lot of the stories do not interest the general public, and especially not younger readers. The Seattle Weekly is an example of such a paper. The Seattle Weekly May 17-23 issue story, "Lunar Eclipse," was about the unique history of the Blue Moon, a local tavern. This alone excludes the population too young to drink, and the young adults who can probably do not even care about its history. The coverage was fine, if not overkill, and many of the stories were written about obscure Seattle happenings and facts, or take news stories and put a human-interest spin on them.
Local daily newspapers can definitely afford to target the younger population because it has more space and resources to do so. Its strength and responsibility is its thorough coverage of local news and information, while national dailies provide more international news. Also, advertising focuses more on regional stores, which are of more interest to shopping teens, as opposed to big name brands like Saks Fifth Avenue that charge prices high enough to allow them to advertise in national papers. Local papers can provide more in-depth coverage of sports or ceremonies at school or other places in the area, and this interests younger people because they might have a friend featured in those stories. The information in the article is also more likely to directly affect their lives, rather than bombings half the world away.
Unless if they are completely self-absorbed and unconcerned, younger people cannot help but be interested in what is in the paper. Even hard news articles are often of interest to young readers because they still affect them; the budget story stated that "state budget revisions may increase school funds," which would definitely be of interest to local students. There are fewer people and events to cover, and so it is more likely that a young person would see someone they know in the paper or read about an occurrence that affects them somehow.
Both national and local newspapers contain articles that interest me, but I look to each for information for different reasons. In some papers I look for good, hard news, and in others I look for in-depth information about my community, especially information that applies to my generation and me. Also, feature articles usually manage to garner my genuine interest rather than hard news stories because they often have a human-interest focus, which is something younger readers like me can relate to as fellow human beings. Some papers include pieces that can be of use and interest to young readers.
However, a lot of young people feel they do not have the time to subscribe to a print paper or to look for articles that would interest them, and feel that other sources of information like the Internet are more accessible and cheap. Hopefully the print industry can make more strides in attracting younger readers by including more stories that apply to their lives and are written by people their own age, and reverse the trend of decreasing print newspaper readership among younger generations.
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