For more than 35 years, the news about newspapers and young readers has been mostly bad for the newspaper industry. Long before any competition from cable television or Nintendo, American newspaper publishers were worrying about declining readership among the young.
As early as 1960, at least 20 years prior to Music Television (MTV) or the Internet, media research scholars(1) began to focus their studies on young adult readers' decreasing interest in newspaper content. The concern over a declining youth market preceded and perhaps foreshadowed today's fretting over market penetration. Even where circulation has grown or stayed stable, there is rising concern over penetration, defined as the percentage of occupied households in a geographic market that are served by a newspaper.(2) Simply put, population growth is occurring more rapidly than newspaper readership in most communities.
This study looks at trends in newspaper readership among the
18-to-34 age group and examines some of the choices young adults make when reading newspapers.
Traditionally, young people could be depended upon to grow up, mature and become newspaper readers.(3) But, according to Leo Bogart, "(i)t has therefore always been true that people in the early years of adulthood read newspapers with less regularity than those in their 30s and 40s."(4) Today, the age at which young people form attachments with newspapers appears to be moving upward.
Circulation and population figures indicate that overall newspaper readership in the United States has been declining since the 1960s.(5) Nancy Davis noted that newspaper circulation could increase by up to 16 percent during the 1990s if baby boomers bought and read newspapers at the same rate that generations before them did.(6) A 1980 study of the 35-to-44 age group found that 66 percent read a newspaper every day. By 1990, that figure dropped to 60 percent.
The readership decline has been more pronounced among younger readers as compared to those over the age of 35.(7) The Newspaper Association of America reported(8) that, in 1972, nearly 50 percent of men aged 18-29 and 38 percent of women in that age bracket read a newspaper every day. In 1991, the figures were 32 percent for young men and 22 percent for young women.
Bogart found that college students who continue to live with their parents read newspapers with greater frequency than those who go to out-of-town colleges, but that only 8 percent of those ages 18-24 were frequent newspaper readers? Another 22 percent were infrequent (or occasional) readers, whereas the majority reported that they did not read the newspaper at all. G.L. Thurlow and K.J. Milo found readership among college students ages 1825 to be even lower than Bogart had reported.(10) The researchers determined 77 percent of college students studied had read the most recent issue of their college newspaper, but that they had not read the local daily newspaper.
Kevin Barnhurst and Ellen Wartella explored what the newspaper means to young adults, asking 164 college students to write autobiographies about their newspaper experiences,(11) They found that 70 percent said the newspaper was a constant in their family backgrounds, and nearly half (46 percent) linked newspaper reading with maturity. However, these same students did not see their reading participation as helping them perform as citizens. In contrast, the college students said that their newspaper reading did contribute to their roles as consumers.
A survey by the American Society of Newspaper Editors identified men and women under age 30 as being most at risk of not reading newspapers.(12) Everett Dennis noted that newspapers are seeing increases in circulation only among those over 40, who already are the age group most likely to read newspapers.(13) Yet, some of the trends associated with young readers are beginning to emerge in adult readership studies. …