Wednesday, September 21, 2005
Conference: Newspapers Win Back Young Readers
Larry Kilman, Director of Communications at WAN, reporting from Argentina:
It is time for newspaper professionals to stop being defensive about their medium. That was the underlying message from the 6th World Young Reader Conference (see also former posting), which challenged the contention that children don't read and showed what the world's most innovative newspapers are doing to capture their loyalty.
"No more excuses about the vehicle we have chosen to make our living," said Marcelo Rech, Editor of the Zero Hora newspaper in southern Brazil. "The problem is not the newspaper as a medium - it's in our heads. We need to constantly innovate and at times produce a true revolution in our products rather than be content with mere survival."
The conference, which ended Wednesday, provided dozens of examples of what newspapers are doing to capture the young, and challenged the conventional wisdom that young people are exclusively loyal to electronic media. Summaries of all conference presentations are available from the World Association of Newspapers.
Zero Hora shows how newspapers can win back young readers in a multimedia world. One-third of its 190 journalists are under 30-years old. Nineteen journalism students fulfil support functions in the newsroom and "are a permanent focus group to challenge us," said Mr Rech. Forty-two percent of Zero Hora's readers are between 10- and 29-years old.
The conventional wisdom, however, says the young people don't read. "This is false," said Ricardo Kirschbaum, the Chief Editor of Argentina's Clarin daily. "They don't read as we did when we were young, but they do read." The problem is, today's young people did not grow up reading newspapers and have not developed loyalty to their local papers. But newspapers can and do create this loyalty.
Clarin, for example, has adopted a "life cycle" strategy in which the reading habit is created at a very young age - the newspaper publishes a pre-school magazine for children as young as 4-years old. It then provides a
wide variety of products, both within the newspaper and as separate publications, to appeal to readers of all ages. The "life cycle" strategy has been successful in many different markets, and will be examined in depth at the World Editor & Marketeer Conference, to be held in Athens, Greece, on 17 and 18 November.
The World Young Reader Conference, which drew more than 300 participants from 66 countries to Buenos Aires, Argentina, did not ignore digital media. As Dani?le Fonck, the Deputy Chief Executive of Editpress Group in Luxembourg put it, "How on earth can we reach youngsters if we don't use their tools, particularly mobile phones?"
But rather than accept the contention that digital media are a threat to newspapers, the conference looked at how young people actually use them. A new study in nine European countries and Canada shows they are not necessarily using them to open up to the wider world. The study, conducted for the European Union by the French Education Ministry's media and education research agency, CLEMI, finds that teen-agers
are using internet, mobile telephones and other devices primarily to communicate with a small group of friends.
"They are tribal," said Evelyne B?vort, Deputy Director of CLEMI, who described a closed communication loop using internet, SMS messaging, blogs and other media - but mostly to stay connected with a small group, and mostly to talk about themselves.
The Young Reader Conference examined the wide variety of ways newspapers attract young people, in large markets and small, rich and poor. It looked at Newspapers in Education programs, special sections and supplements, games and quizzes, literacy programmes, integration of digital and paper media, total "youth think", and many other strategies.
"At the World Association of Newspapers, we believe that whatever newspapers are doing in this area is valuable," said Aralynn McMane, Director of Education and Development for WAN, which organised the event. "There is no single approach. Even if a newspaper can only afford to do small things, they are worth doing."
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