There’s a discussion going on in every newspaper company in the United States, it goes something like this, “… we need to attract a younger audience.” But, now they’re talking about their online newspaper audience.
The problem stems from the same problems that plagues “oldies” radio. The younger audience doesn’t want what you’re offering. If the oldies station wants to attract high schoolers they need to change the music they play, if established newspaper sites want to attract a younger audience, they also need to change the very core way they’re serving their content.
That type of change does not start with the online group, it starts with the news room.
If a journalist can’t see the revolutionary changes happening around him, he won’t realize that his job is now so much more than just writing. He now must build an audience. The old built in newspaper audience is now gone.
In the new world, when his story is commented on and he never responds, he misses an opportunity to connect with his audience, misses a chance to grown his audience, misses a chance to be better than 95% of his fellow journalists.
When a blogger links to his story, and the writer doesn’t reach out, he misses an opportunity to grow his circle of influence and misses a chance to start a conversation with a wider audience.
I read stories that news organizations are now “using” Twitter, but pushing out headlines with no context and no ability to answer incoming tweets does not constitute using Twitter in my mind.
I suggested to my friend Kathy Vetter down at the Star-Telegram to use Twitter like it is suppose to be used. To hand craft tweets, to link to anything the S-T audience might find interesting, even it it wasn’t in their paper! She started almost immediately. Over the past three months Star-Telegram’s followers has increased dramatically.
When I see a tweet like:
Morning, all. It’s going to be hot again, after a couple of “nice” days. High around 98 today. http://bit.ly/zPwT0 (Oh, and Rangers win!)
it makes me happy that some of the McClatchy papers “get it”. Take a look at the conversational style of that tweet, that’s not aimed at “younger readers”, it’s aimed at everyone.
That’s who newspapers need to aim for – everyone. I’m certainly not in the “younger” demographic that online newspapers think they need to appeal to, but I am someone they should be trying to convert to become a daily reader. I am a news junkie, I am online roughly 14 hours every day, I read at least a dozen blogs regularly and I watch the local television news daily. The last time I check my local online newspaper site, I was looking for information about a Memorial Day parade, which they had nothing on. I would say on average, I visit the Raleigh News & Observer site about once or twice a year.
If online newspaper sites want to compete for me, they need to put in some effort. They need to change the core way they do business. Here’s what I would prescribe for online newspapers.
- Optimize your headlines so I can search and find what I want
- Write about what I want to read about
- Let me help you by adding content, comments, photos, videos and my expertise
- Read your comments and respond where appropriate
- Link out to other sources within your stories, I don’t believe that you know everything
- Take more pictures, a story without a photo stinks
- Take more videos
- Treat your readers like you treat your neighbors, when they wave… wave back
- The community does not want you to fail, just give them any reason to support you
It’s not about attracting younger readers, it’s about changing the very culture within the news organization. When they’re ready for that, ready to be part of the community, the younger readers will come, and so will everyone else.