Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Connecting with Kids

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Connecting with Kids

Article excerpt

In these pioneer days of online newspapers, perhaps no demographic target holds more promise and more peril than children. No generation before could be more comfortable with computers -- and none is more at risk of never developing a newspaper reading habit.

Yet, newspapers face imposing obstacles in reaching kids online.

The plain fact is, for reasons both understandable and somewhat paranoiac, there is widespread fear about the safety of kids on the Web.

"When Burger King sends a kid a Kids' Club newsletter, nobody is concerned. But if you e-mail a child, somehow that is bad," said Sara Fitzgerald, a veteran of newspaper new media efforts, now working as a consultant. "There's something about databases and computers," she added, "that gives this bad Big Brother feeling to [e-mailing children] rather making it a parallel experience as you'd think."

Similarly, natural concerns about target-marketing to children creates a barrier to the sort of interactivity that is at the very core of new media. This caution about the Web serves to stymie online relationships even with some of newspapers' oldest friends.

"Teachers and schools don't want to link up [online] with anybody -- even the local paper and even though they may have an NIE [Newspaper in Education] relationship with us," Fitzgerald said.

At the recent Interactive Newspapers '97 conference in Houston, Fitzgerald and other online newspaper figures explored not only these formidable problems, but also the not inconsiderable number of success stories.

There are, after all, good reasons for parents and teachers. as well as newspapers, to be positive about "digital kids," as marketers sometimes call these computer-savvy children.

For one thing, children who have Net access in their homes appear to he "good kids". For instance, the aren't neglecting schoolwork to spend time on the computer. It's just the opposite, in fact.

A 1995-96 survey by FIND/SVP and Grunwald Associates found that, on average, children in the seventh grade or above who live in online households spend more than two additional hours a week on their homework than do children overall.

Parents in online households see the difference: In the same survey. …

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