Media ignore, patronize young people

The Vancouver Sun’s Kirk Lapointe points to a new survey that shows the Internet doesn’t connect well with older people.

Besides the obvious “well duh” response to this, allow me to turn it on its head a bit: Is it that the Internet appeals to the young, or that traditional media sources appeal to the old?

Let me give you an example: Open your Saturday newspaper. And if you’re under 35, open your parents’ Saturday newspaper. Take a look at the sections:

  • Homes: Assumes that you own a home and are for some reason constantly renovating it. Little discussion of issues facing apartment-dwellers, if at all.
  • Cars: Usually multiple sections a week dealing with new vehicles. Out of those 10-20 articles a week, rarely will any focus on bicycles or other alternative forms of transportation. Even used cars get very little coverage.
  • Working: Assumes you work in a cubicle as an insurance adjuster, and are looking for a new job as an insurance adjustment manager at another company. Minimal discussion of working at minimum-wage jobs, contract jobs, freelancing or other non-suit-and-tie careers.
  • Comics: The vast majority of which are ridiculously unfunny because they’re designed primarily not to offend grandma.
  • Crosswords and other ancient games: Either they’re too simple (like Wonderword) or too time-intensive (like the New York Times crossword). Sudoku is about the only thing in there that comes out of this millennium, and every newspaper on the planet has one of those.
  • Wine and fine dining: Pages and pages devoted to this stuff. Some have entire sections devoted to just wine. No other food or drink gets such prestige.
  • Fashion: Concentrates on what crazy expensive fad you can buy into instead of how you can adapt the clothing you already have to make yourself more fashionable. Regurgitating a Gucci press release is more important than coming up with original DIY styles.
  • Travel: Focuses on far-away places and expensive touristy trips instead of regional destinations or economical/environmentally-friendly/unusual vacations.

The reason behind these are obvious: That’s where the ad money is. Car companies pay for the biggest ads, so their sections are the largest, even though buying a new car is hardly the most important thing you have to deal with on a weekly basis.

I’d be willing to forgive these things if they were counterbalanced with sections that appealed to young people. But look for sections on gaming, education, the environment, Internet issues, technology or science and you come up far short, if you find anything at all. When a paper does cover some of these issues, they cater even those articles to their “general” audience, which means they have to explain what a blog is and what Facebook is all about. It comes off sounding patronizing and very uninformative.

So without newspapers and other traditional media to turn to, is it surprising that they’re finding what they need online?

5 thoughts on “Media ignore, patronize young people

  1. Tim Burden

    Important point about catering to an audience. The Internet lets you build your own news smorgasbord, with stuff taken from your favourite sections in your favourite news organization websites, your favourite blogs, etc. in a feedreader. Don’t know how I ever got along without a feedreader.

    So should papers bother to chase those little niches? Probably not. If they’re going to put different stuff online than they do in print, then it’s a whole different product: different demographic, different sales staff, and, unless you want to work your reporters to the bone, different editorial staff.

    Now assume it is a different product, different business unit. Does it survive? Not yet, it doesn’t. Maybe in a few years, when the ad dollars are there.

    A paper needs to know and understand its market, in print and online. Never mind chasing the young. The news industry as a whole has to chase the young, sure, to be replace us old farts who are dying off. And it probably won’t be in stodgy old papers, either. But that doesn’t mean the Star and the Globe and my hometown paper have to. They need to cater to their own readers, both in print and online, to capitalize on their brand and their editorial strengths. Hint: old buggers like to get their news online too.

    Not that MSMs shouldn’t invest in or create new online products when they see an opportunity. But they need to realize that their old print brands aren’t going to float what are essentially completely separate businesses, except in terms of deep pockets.

    To sum: existing newspapers probably shouldn’t waste their time chasing down whole new demographics in their papers or on their websites. They should move their brands online with an eye to keeping and growing their existing readership. And they should be looking at new online businesses they can develop, while recognizing that these are going to be completely separate and distinct business units.

    Tim

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  2. Tim

    Some pretty valid points here. I’d add to travel that they often cover “weekend getaways” that don’t appeal to a younger crowd.

    I wonder about what you say about fashion, though. There are people out there (allow me to generalize and say, women) under 35 who dedicate a significant portion (allow me to judge and say, ridiculously so) of their disposable income on fashion. That being said, (and I’m clearly speaking out of my field here) I’m willing to bet dollars to doughnuts (closer to my field) that the Saturday paper is not only an unfashionable place to learn about trends, but (going on a limb here) by the time it’s written about in the Gazette fashion section, it’s already (soooo) two-minutes ago.

    (Please forgive the (gratuitous) amounts of parentheticals (including embedded parentheticals) in these comments.)

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  3. Michelle

    Exactly right! I periodically pick up the Globe and Mail and notice the ads for $15,000 necklaces just thrown in as if they were apples on special. It is crazy. No one I know can afford that (even those over 35!). Or, equally bizarre: the review of a new musical or even a new restaurant in Paris or London….

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  4. Dom

    I would argue that newspapers also leave out people who do not make a salary of six figures or more. Am I the only one who feels the Globe and Mail is elitist? I feel like I’m reading a newspaper for the rich with their Travel, and lifestyle sections. Poor (or plain old middle class) people read the paper too. But I guess the advertisers pay big bucks to get adds in papers that cater to the well-off.

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  5. bdgbill

    Agree with the comics remark especially.

    Since I was 8 or so I have been wondering who the hell reads, “Family Circus”, “Mark Trail”, “Mary Worth”, “Apartment 3g”, “Dennis the Menace” etc.

    They are all relics of the 50’s (or earlier). We are not still watching Howdie Doody on TV. Why are these comics still in virtually every paper in North America?

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