Magazine article Editor & Publisher

NAA 2003: The Young and the Restless

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

NAA 2003: The Young and the Restless

Article excerpt

Study shows readership at crossroads

In their coverage of the Iraq conflict, newspapers may have won the quality battle but lost the war -- for young or uncommitted readers. According to the latest study by the Readership Institute (RI), highlighted at the Newspaper Association of America convention, readership by "light" and young readers did increase modestly during the recent invasion -- but that actually may hurt in the long run. These infrequent readers poked into newspapers more, but didn't like what they saw.

"One thing that is clear is that even as light and young readers moved to the paper, they were not satisfied, compared to the levels of heavy and moderate readers," said RI Director John Lavine. "They will not stick with you."

Still, a separate RI study showed that because many newspapers are using the techniques suggested by the institute's mammoth "Impact" study -- publishing more in-paper content promotions, telling stories about ordinary people, improving circulation service, and shedding a "defensive" corporate culture -- newspapers are making some progress on readership.

Overall, problems remain with light and young readers, "but readership of your heaviest readers went up," Lavine, who also directs the Media Management Center at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., told publishers at the NAA convention. "You're making real headway with moderate and heavy readers." Further, the study shows that one-third of young readers are already heavy readers, a result that is far below that of past generations but unexpectedly high now, given the long decline of newspaper readership.

What newspapers must do to attract younger and infrequent readers is rebrand their products the way the Starbucks Corp. transformed the image of coffee, Lavine said: "Coffee in a can is a dead ringer for where newspapers were: It was a mature product, it was dying, everybody said its time was over -- and then Starbucks came along. …

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