Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

New US Tabloids: More Ja Rule Than Jack Straw ; Confronting Youthful Readers Indifferent to News, Major US Papers Create Hip Spin-Offs

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

New US Tabloids: More Ja Rule Than Jack Straw ; Confronting Youthful Readers Indifferent to News, Major US Papers Create Hip Spin-Offs

Article excerpt

The newspaper industry has seen the future, and it looks - or, to be more precise, reads - just like high school junior Harley Hutchins.

Lingering over apple pie at a cafe in the Chicago suburb of Evanston, Harley says he likes RedEye, a breezy tabloid distributed weekdays at Chicago transit stations.

The newspaper isn't published by alternative journalists or a coterie of intellectuals, but the same company that publishes the nation's seventh-largest daily. "It reads a lot faster and is simpler than the [Chicago] Tribune," he says. "When you read the Tribune ... they start naming foreign ministers and you lose track of the story."

In RedEye, and a growing number of youth-oriented newspapers, readers like Harley are happy to find more references to Ja Rule than Jack Straw.

Frantic about losing two generations of readers indifferent to mainstream news, newspaper publishers across the country are launching one of the most aggressive periods of experimentation since the colorful pages of USA Today revolutionized the industry 20 years ago.

"There's no doubt that newspapers are in transition, and they're going to need to reach out to younger readers," says Margaret Buchanan, publisher of CiN Weekly, a new Gannett newspaper in Cincinnati. "We have to change."

RedEye first appeared in the fall of 2002 along with The Chicago Sun- Times' Red Streak. The Washington Post has created the Express, a free weekly with entertainment listing and condensced news stories aimed at young commuters.

Gannett, the nation's largest newspaper publisher, recently began producing more than a half dozen weeklies with the same editorial agenda. From North Carolina to Kansas, other publishers across the country are launching similar efforts.

RedEye et al. don't remind anyone of their grandfather's newspaper. They focus on quick-hit stories and emphasize entertainment. But they also demur from the lurid sex-advice columns and in-your-face tone of alternative weeklies.

Instead, these publications are a melange of Entertainment Weekly and Reader's Digest, with some big photos and local event listings thrown in. Consider a Friday edition from last month. Big stories in that day's Tribune - a US helicopter crash in Iraq and the court appearance of an Enron official - garner only a handful of paragraphs in its sister publication. RedEye devotes almost its entire front page to a photo of a woman who lied about losing a winning lottery ticket. Inside, stories cover the NFL playoffs, Chicago's historic "firsts," and the joys of hot drinks.

Many competitors aren't impressed with a "Saddam, Schmaddam" approach that values the doings of Tyra Banks over Tony Blair.

"You've got a bunch of people in suits and they get together and have focus groups and decide what young people want," says Richard Karpel, executive director of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies. …

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