Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Are Newspapers Doomed to Dullness Forever?

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Are Newspapers Doomed to Dullness Forever?

Article excerpt

Kevin O'Donogbue, a journalism student a: St. John's University in New York City, is a newsroom intern at the Editor & Publisher Co.

WHY THEY AREN'T CONNECTING WITH YOUNG PEOPLE LIKE ME

Demographically, the author, a 19-year-old student who is also an intern at E&P, is exactly the sort of reader newspapers must attract to prosper in the next century. We assigned him to tell us what we're all doing wrong.

Everything I see in my daily travels tells me that newspapers are dying.

Oh, its are up in the industry this year but the long-term future of newspapers is not about this year's margins, Is it? It's about next decade's circulation levels. If you want to get a good feel for where those trends are going on the other side of the Millenium, by wandering a nearby college campus. Most students a listening to portable CD players rather than reading print newspapers. And just try to find someone on campus who doesn't regularly access the Internet to read news and connect with the world. Some of us even hand in our homework by e-mail.

This behavior is telling you something about the habits and preferences being adopted by a whole generation. U.S. newspaper circulation has steadily declined since 1970 and continues its slow, down ward spiral. The most recent studies say that only 45% of us 18 to 24-year olds read a daily newspaper -- compared with nearly 70% of the people our parents' age.

We Don't Like to be Bored

Newspapers aren't hooking us and here's why: We don't like to be bored. We grew up in the instant information age of broadcast news and came to adulthood just as the Internet revolution broke surface. Now, growing numbers of children are learning bow to use the Internet from as early as kindergarten. Most college and high school students have access to the Net in their schools, their libraries or in the homes of family or friends. Generation X had to embrace the Internet in order to stay competitive in the work world. But Generation Next is growing up with it as a routine part of their daily lives. You think things are bad for print newspapers now, just wait a few years. These 10-year-old Web heads are your future. And the only place to connect with them is out where their imaginations roam each day: Cyberspace. Ink-on-woodpulp newspapers aren't necessary or even important to these kids - Web sites are.

It doesn't appear to me that many newspaper giants have responded to the threat of losing our generation in a manner that we find meaningful. I don't mean that newspapers haven't spent a bundie on online development or put up some very flashy looking Web sites or installed slick e-commerce structures or put some of their best print stories on the Web. They've certainly put a lot of effort into things they think are innovative, like color photos and artsy graphics.

But those newspaper Web sites do not match up to the better e-zines, city guides and other Web information sources that are attracting me and other young people across the Web like iron filings pulled to a magnet. In fact, what newspapers see as innovation is often the bare minimum that readers of e-zines and city guides expect.

Dull Design

Could it be that our concept of "design" is a lot different from yours? The design of newspaper Web sites most often leans toward digital layouts that closely resemble the daily print edition. Stories are laid out in an economical way that allows as much news as possible to be crammed onto a page -- a format that often means a simple look and no perks. But digital perks matter to readers weaned on Nintendo.

Drab design and an overall failure to be interesting are among the things that prevent your newspapers from reaching younger readers.

For instance, compare the design of the New York Times' Web site to the design of the Sidewalk.com site for New York. They have almost nothing in common.

First of all, the New York Times on the Web makes site virgins register before entering. …

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