[This item was originally posted to The Media Drop]
Back in 1995, the president and CEO of The Orange County Register, John Schueler, sat down in a conference room at Cal State Long Beach with about 25 attendees and told them that changes were coming in the newspaper industry. The school’s paper, the Forty-Niner Online, published an article written by Bill Field shortly after the event, describing what was discussed. Schueler spoke of some major changes, including a small number of writers who would work on a freelance basis and “sell” the articles to newspapers. And as circulation costs would continue to rise and become a larger portion of the overall expenses, Field stated that “newspapers have to start looking for ways to tighten their belts.” One of the easiest ways to do so is obviously to change your staffing levels and how you obtain the articles themselves.
It’s now 2004, nine years later. Many changes have swept through the newspaper industry – reporters are still there, but we all notice the amount of United Press International (UPI) and Associated Press (AP) articles that appear in our “hometown” newspaper. So perhaps those changes have come into effect – though I haven’t noticed an overwhelming amount of writers who weren’t already unemployed before… So maybe this hasn’t totally happened just yet.
What has happened is that the lengths that newspaper publishers are going to go to keep or even obtain readers have changed somewhat. Instead of the once-a-week insert your newspaper has that is geared towards teenagers or young adults, you now have publications like the Washington Post’s Express, which is a free, daily newspaper that is handed out at Metro stations, on college campuses, and other spots in the D.C. metropolitan area. Who is it geared to? Well, people on their way to work or school, or at school.
Yesterday, Randy Dotinga and Anne Stein wrote an article entitled “New US tabloids: more Ja Rule than Jack Straw” at the Christian Science Monitor. They detail a few other dailies that are leaning towards a younger (and seemingly more attention-lacking) audience. The Chicago Tribune has its RedEye, which The Write News points out that RedEye will have a “tightly-edited mix of topical news and features coupled with its daily frequency” which is aimed directly at this population. RedEye’s editor, Jane Hirt says in the same article that “If readers give us 20 minutes, we’ll make the most of their time,” so it’s no question what they’re looking to do.
I’d have to go back to the second post on The Media Drop, where the question, “Do You Read the Paper?” was asked. The answer is obviously a tough one, depending on who reads it. So while there might be cost pressures involved with changes at media outlets, there is also a very quickly changing environment that the newspaper community has to work with. In 1995, there was the World Wide Web and it was becoming accepted with young people, especially college and high-school age students – those people are now in their 20s and have moved into a world where everything is on-demand – why can’t their news be. These smart newspaper owners have created a low-priced or free alternative to their regular publication, targeted everything from the content to the advertising at the young adult reader, and have made it available right where it needs to be picked up. I say that’s a great move, considering they are always fighting against the digital world.
It’s all about readership, and you’ve got to gain readers at an early age if you think you’re going to keep them on board in the future. The next few years will constantly be telling in what happens long term – that is, if technology ever slows down a little bit so the mediums can catch up.