There probably isn’t much newspapers can do to get Millennials to subscribe to their daily print editions, but a niche publication offering attractive design and exclusive, relevant content just might get younger readers to flip their pages.
That’s what an Emerson graduate journalism class determined when they set out to answer a question posed to them by Editor & Publisher, a magazine that covers the North American newspaper industry. The class’s report, “How to Re-Think Print for Younger Generations,” is published in Editor & Publisher’s June issue.
“That was sort of our revelation… that our demographic still feels there’s a need for print publications,” said Mario Zepeda, MA ’17 a student in Mark Micheli’s Advanced Multimedia and Reporting class who helped research and compile the report.
In between producing 27 multimedia stories for a class website covering under-the-radar news stories called Invisible Boston, Micheli’s class tackled one aspect of a problem that has been plaguing newspapers since at least the early 2000s – how to stanch the flow of print subscribers and newsstand readers to the web when print ads still command much higher prices than online advertising.
“We approached it the same way an individual reporter would approach an assignment, only we did it as a group,” said Micheli, an affiliated faculty member, a former news editor at boston.com, and an early migrator (1995) to online journalism.
This is the second year Editor & Publisher reached out to journalism students to ask them to dig deep on a timely issue. Last year, they asked a Central Michigan University class to work on ways newspapers can remain relevant in a web-first world. That experiment was so successful, said Nu Yang, managing editor at Editor & Publisher, that they decided to try it again with another school.
“I think readers got really good material [from the students],” Yang said. “The students really take it seriously.”
The magazine had worked with Emerson in the past, on one of their Critical Thinking columns, in which a student and a professional answer the same question. Yang said she reached out to Journalism Chair Paul Niwa, who loved the idea and put her in touch with Micheli.
The class researched attempts to attract younger audiences specifically, and what was out there to attract print readers generally. They designed and administered their own survey, targeted to readers ages 18-25, and got more than 100 responses – not enough for science, but a respectable snapshot.
Based on their research, the class offers the industry a number of ideas to get young adults to look up from their phones and into a news rack.
A lot of the suggestions have to do with presentation and delivery: hire reporters in the same demographic you’re trying to reach and write in a style that works for that audience, distribute in places where Millennials congregate (coffee houses, brew pups, bike shops, book stores), break up stories into “bite-size, visually attractive pieces,” use bold colors and graphics, even consider heavy stock or unusual paper grades.
Young people surveyed said they’d be willing to pay for a paper or magazine if it contained content that they found interesting, and if they knew they couldn’t get it anywhere else, Zepeda said. They also found that offering “free stuff,” such as old-fashioned discounts to popular businesses and pull-out swag, sweetened the deal.
“I was just like, ‘It’s just a couple of coupons and a poster, does it really make a difference?’” Zepeda said. “But I guess it does.”
Zepeda said in researching this project, he found some things surprising, even though he is part of the demographic he was studying.
“The biggest surprise would be people saying that they feel anything in print is more reliable than what’s online,” he said. “That kind of caught me off guard, I thought an overwhelming percentage was going to say, ‘I get everything online, I never even pick up a paper.’”
He said the survey they sent out had open-ended questions, and many respondents offered up that they don’t trust Facebook or Twitter as sources of information.
Micheli said he doesn’t believe many in the year 2017 are seriously considering launching a print product for young readers, but those same readers are seriously interested in in-depth, quality news – even if they’re not getting it from a broadsheet on the train.
“What came through loud and clear is that this generation does care about news, and they care about international news and national news – things that for most people don’t come to mind when [they] think of that age group,” he said.