Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Young people shunning papers, warns News Corp boss

Young people shunning papers, warns News Corp boss: "Media: Rupert Murdoch's right-hand man has warned that fewer and fewer young people are reading newspapers, blaming free papers for the decline."

It's true, young people don't read newspapers. Why would they pay for stories that have been cut-and-pasted from syndication services like the AP when one can simply type in web addresses like the Guardian Unlimited or Reuters and get all the same, shoveled information.

For the last month, I've been glued to the television watching the San Antonio Spurs work their way through the Western Conference playoffs. I live in Denton, half an hour north of Dallas, and it's sacreligious to be anything other than a Mavs fan. If I missed a Spurs game, why would I choose to read the Dallas Morning News for game information? I utilize my RSS reader and tap into the San Antonio Express-News sports page everyday as part of my news diet. For the best information, I go as close to the source as I can get. Today's kids are no different. Why pick up the local paper to read about national news when one can turn on FoxNews or CNN and get it from a source that is in the business of reporting national and global news.

Why free papers work

For most newspapers, the Sunday issue is the cash-cow. Advertisers knows this which is why most ads are bought for that day and newspaper managers knows this which is why all Sunday editions are more expensive. I think the Denton Record-Chronicle charges a dollar for its Sunday paper and 25 cents for its weekday editions. A dollar can buy you a song on iTunes. As an example, this iTunes purchase is a better investment for a computer-savvy kid budgeting an allowance or a minimum-wage job. Why buy a newspaper full of information you get free on the web and that you're just going to throw away after reading when you can download a song you can listen to repeatedly?

When I was a kid, I didn't care about city council or school board meetings. I didn't care about tax increases or mayoral races. I cared about the funny pages and any pictures from my high school's Friday night football games. Kids get their local "news" from school hallways, or at least the information that they think they need. It's not until these kids grow up and start families of their own that they start caring about school boards and highway taxes.

Free papers keep this in mind in hopes of providing a service to the community, educating young readers, and hopefully attracting future subscribers. Reading of all sorts is down, unless you count the multiple pages of web text available. (It's not necessarily literature, but it is words on a page.) Kids exposed to reading at an early age will continue to read as they grow and mature. That's what these free papers have in mind - attracting kids who have been exposed to reading to their papers, and attempting to re-create a thurst for knowledge through the written word for kids that weren't taught the values of reading at an early age.

Society is changing and so is the media. The big sharks are learning that being big fish in a small pond hurts if more and more small fish start to inhabit the pond. The small fish are finding food easier because the bigger fish are just swimming around with their mouths open hoping to catch something. Our culture is splintered by niches, there is no all-encompassing school that any of us swim with. These free papers are passively getting audiences to come to them rather than actively seeking-out the mythic American - the ideal audience member.

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