Newspapers struggle to reach younger set

The recent news that the AP was shutting down its youth-focused multimedia news service called "asap" is another reminder of the newspaper industry's problems reaching the 18- to 34-year-old demographic.

The recent news that the AP was shutting down its youth-focused multimedia news service called "asap" is another reminder of the newspaper industry's problems reaching the 18- to 34-year-old demographic.

The industry's readership problems have been documented for some time. But as the use of new media continues to grow at a frenetic pace, the prospects of targeting the younger audience get bleaker and bleaker.

Ted Anthony, the editor of asap, says the control and aesthetics that the Web, blogs, and other new-media outlets offer make getting news from them so much more appealing for this age group than a traditional newspaper.
 
"What the online consumption of news offers you is print, sound, and video, and things coming alive," Anthony explains. "It offers you control in a way that a print product doesn't, and I don't see that going away. Once you give people the ability to make the choice and build their own pyramids of information... they're not going to want to go back."

Originally intended to help newspapers reach the coveted younger audience, asap will no longer be a stand-alone service. "We're looking for ways to take what worked best with asap and integrate that into other departments of AP," Anthony says.

In trying to stay relevant, print publications and news networks are investing more in their online sites and allowing people to create their own "news pyramid." Personalization is huge within this age group - whether it be clothes, accessories, or news.

But even those who are studying to enter the field are not reading newspapers. Judy Muller, assistant professor of journalism at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communications, says more than half of her students (who are journalism majors) do not regularly read the newspaper. "Unless we require it of them," she adds, "which we do."

Muller says this demographic is a group of non-linear people that get their information from the Web, TV, and NPR.

"They come in that way," she says. "I don't know if you can force people to adopt a habit that was never there in the first place. They're not going to be daily newspaper subscribers, nor are they going to sit down and watch a national newscast in the evening. That's not the way that their world functions."

Sree Sreenivasan, head of the new-media program at Columbia University's Journalism School, says traditional outlets have to find a way to become a part of the conversation if they plan to stay relevant or even remain a choice for 18- to 34-year-olds.

"We grew up knowing the importance of subscribing to a newspaper, going to a particular place to get updates, but these folks don't think that way," he says. "So it's important for media outlets to be on Facebook, and be on blogs, and all the various things that make up the landscape where people can get information. They need to be where these audiences are, and they're not there all the time."

Sreenivasan says the good thing is that people are trying to figure out what to do about the problem.

"No one has the answers yet, and everyone is trying new ideas and things, and that's great," he notes. "That's one of the positive things about this: Everyone is experimenting and trying to find the right formula that works. But no one has the right answer yet."

The AP's Anthony doesn't believe things are so bleak. He sees great opportunity in the tools that are currently creating these challenges for the newspaper industry.

"People are very worried that the industry might be going, but we have been handed this incredible toolkit that we never had before, and we now have all these choices on how to tell stories," Anthony says. "And the more choices you have to tell a story, I think the better the stories are going to be told."

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