Young readers key to papers' success

Ask any marketer today how to reach the teenage and young adult demographic and the most popular answer will likely involve a combination of MySpace, podcasts, and blogs.

Ask any marketer today how to reach the teenage and young adult demographic and the most popular answer will likely involve a combination of MySpace, podcasts, and blogs.

Some recent research has demonstrated that the all-important 18-34 demographic is not turning to traditional media as a source of information. In fact, a survey of 12- to 34-year-olds conducted earlier this year showed that only one in four could name all four news broadcast networks.

Still, research released last week by the Newspaper Association of America (NAA) provides a seemingly simple solution for attracting that younger audience to the most traditional outlet of them all.

The study, which polled more than 1,600 young adults, ages 18 to 24, shows that newspaper content aimed directly at teens, or written by teens, strongly impacts a newspaper's ability to attract those young readers and keep them as they get older. Seventy-five percent of those respondents who said they read newspaper content aimed at teens when they were 13-17 now read their local paper at least once a week. In contrast, only 44% of those who did not read teen content report the same weekly reading habits. As for reasons teens are reading newspapers, 30% of those surveyed reported that specific teen content was the draw.

"We were very pleased with the results," says Jim Abbott, VP of the NAA Foundation. "I would not say that we were surprised. I think for a long time we've had the anecdotal information that said getting young people involved in the newspaper is good. It's just one of those things that makes sense."

Conducted by MORI Research, the study, titled "Lifelong Readers: The Role of Youth Content," was presented at the NAA Foundation's Young Reader Conference. Last week's gathering brought together youth editors as well as representatives from Newspapers in Education - a joint effort between schools, newspapers, and other sponsors - and students to discuss how to get American youth interested in reading newspapers. A group of 13 teens was expected to critique teen pages from newspapers all around the country.

For the newspaper industry, which has faced a series of challenges in recent years, finding a way to attract and keep the often-elusive younger audience is a necessary step if it is to survive.

As a whole, the industry has done its part to diversify content, especially with enriched online experiences. The NAA even embarked on a $50 million ad campaign - albeit one with seemingly "old-fashioned" creative - to lure marketing dollars and eventually readers back to newspapers. But Abbott notes that paying proper attention to a younger audience could make the most business sense.

"What [the research] says loudest to me is that we are looking at an industry that is literally spending billions of dollars to attract 21-year-olds," he says. "For a much smaller investment of money, if we teach them when those kids are 10 or 11 that we are a legitimate good source of information and keep them as readers all the way through - we won't have to spend those billions of dollars to try and get them back."

Attracting younger readers to newspapers is something that could also benefit marketers, especially if they take an active role. Take a company like Nintendo. What could provide better publicity for its latest gaming console than a review written by a teenager?

From a local perspective, newspapers are still among the best ways to reach an audience. Yet such local newspapers are often the media outlets most likely to suffer staff and budget cuts. The savvy PR pros who can provide insight and youth-targeted content are not only helping their clients, but could play a part in helping to sustain - and possibly revitalize - the newspaper industry as well.

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