Tribune Trains Eye-Like Tab on New York City

Tribune Publishing and a weekly tabloid pioneer announced Tuesday that they would join forces to create a free daily newspaper aimed at the young New York City commuter by the end of the year.

Tribune, which already publishes the weekday Red Eye in Chicago, will own the majority of amNew York, with former Boston Metro publisher Russel Pergament running the paper and owning a minority stake. While Pergament is keeping details of the paper close to the vest, amNew York is expected to follow at least to some degree the format of the highly successful Metro papers that have sprung up in Philadelphia and Boston: A 40-something page tabloid, with short stories and a design to snag young readers, heavy on entertainment news, with free distribution throughout Manhattan and the boroughs.

When amNewYork debuts sometime in the fourth quarter, it will join a growing list of free or low-cost dailies that have begun popping up to address what has for many years has been the newspaper industry's biggest problem: How to attract younger readers.

Since at least the 1980s, the industry has been studying ways to get younger readers interested in the newspaper the way their parents and grandparents were. Some initiatives, like Newspaper in Education, tried to use classrooms to build familiarity. Editors began more lifestyle and entertainment coverage, shortened stories and raised story counts in an effort to mimic TV on the printed page, and splashed color and graphics throughout the pages. But a decline in afternoon paper readership (which led to youngsters not seeing newspapers as a daily ritual), an increased reliance on TV for news and finally, the rise of the Internet in the mid- to late 1990s has thwarted the industry's efforts to win the youth vote.

A 1998 University of Chicago study found that only about a fifth of 20- to 29-year-old read the newspaper daily, compared to almost half in 1972. Similar studies aren't as bleak but show similar declines: Scarborough Research found that 38.8% of teens and young adults had read a daily newspaper in 2001, compared to 44.6% in 1996. A telephone survey by the Newspaper Association of America found the 35% of adults 18-24 had read a newspaper the day before and 45% the previous Sunday, compared to 74% of adults 55-59 yesterday and 82% of adults 55-59 the previous Sunday.

In recent years, a Swedish newspaper publisher brought the free daily model successful overseas to the United States in Philadelphia and Boston. Last year, Tribune's Chicago Tribune created a much-talked-about daily called RedEye that targeted the 18- to 34-year-old urban professional in Chicagoland. It sparked a similar tab called Red Streak by rival Chicago Sun-Times. Both cost 25 cents a copy. In August, The Washington Post launched Express, a free weekday daily.

"It's certainly a reaction to the fact that there's a high degree of interest on the part of newspapers to reach out to the young reader that is so captivating to the advertising community," said John Kimball, chief marketing officer at the Newspaper Association of America in Vienna, Va. "How do you do that? Clearly one way is to see if you can present news to them in a different context, a different format, with a different style of writing and a different business model."

Brian Steffens, a former editor of Editor & Publisher and executive director of the National Newspaper Association in Columbia, Mo., said there isn't one answer to solving the industry's youth problem. He said newspapers are continually upgrading the printed product (witness the Miami Herald's recent redesign) and looking to create products that aren't necessarily news on paper - including updates via cell phone and other wireless devices, along with the Internet - in an effort to reach as many people as possible, wherever they are.

"[Previously] papers had clung desperately to the printed product. I think they're starting to see they've got to deliver it in different ways," he said.

Media economist Miles Groves said it's another channel to reach readers, albeit one different from the traditional newspaper.

"They're trying to reach an audience that they haven't been able to engage very well," Groves said. He said that the niche strengthens the brand and, taking a step back, reinforces the fact that newspapers mean more than just ink on paper.

"The Chicago Tribune is not just the Chicago Tribune newspaper. It's a whole host of things in that community. Any newspaper in any community is more than just another business," Groves said.

Tribune and the Washington Post company clearly hope that their products will bridge the gap between non-readers and regulars, forming a habit that will end up turning the 18- to 34-year-olds into readers of the traditional newspapers. Jean Mansfield, senior vice president and group media director of MediaVest's Halogen unit, isn't sure that's going to happen. She said that magazines do that - readers of 17 moving to Cosmo, then getting married and reading Oprah Winfrey's and Martha Stewart's magazines, then moving to Modern Maturity when they reach a certain age, for instance - but she doesn't know if the day-to-day newspaper reader can follow that path. It works for magazines because they're so tailored to big events in readers' lives, she said.

There's also the Internet, where many youth - and not an insignificant portion of Generation Y and Baby Boomers - go for their news. An NAA study in 1998 found that teen-agers looked for quick and timely sources of information. "That's the challenge to print," Mansfield said.

Another issue for advertisers will be who reads the papers. Mansfield said that the new-style papers aren't measured and there's no way for planners and buyers to find out the value of the consumer reading.

"The challenge is gong to be from the newspaper perspective demographically, and be able to present that to planners and buyers and assure that people are reading your paper," Mansfield said. "There's always the concern that the newspaper is sitting in the lobby of the high rise or a plastic newspaper stand and no one is really taking it."

While the new tabs don't compete editorially against established news weeklies in their markets, they do sometimes go after the same advertisers. Jane Levine, chief operating officer of both the Chicago Reader and the Washington City Paper, doesn't think her free weeklies compete editorially against "the Reds" nor Express.

"Express and Red Eye and Red Streak are news, daily newspapers ... It's what happened yesterday. Just the facts, as short as possible," Levine said. "our papers are feature papers. They ask more questions about what's going on and try to get a fuller picture. That's not better or worse. It's just really different."

Levine doesn't doubt Tribune's claim that it had signed on 150 new advertisers for Red Eye in its first year, although it hasn't affected her advertising base.

"We haven't lost any existing advertising. I think the only challenge that we felt so far is that advertisers we don't have that we go to call on, that are interested in expanding who they're reaching, they're already in the Trib," Levine said. "It's just easier for them and way cheaper" to add the Red Eye to their Tribune media spend.

Levine said that alternative weeklies, and her publications in particular, reach an age group mostly between 21 and 44, with 75% of the readers being single with high disposable incomes. She said that's different from the targeting of papers like Red Eye, Red Streak, Express and the Metros.

"These papers are going after, and I don't think very successfully, an age. They want 18 to 34, period, young for young's sake. What the reader of our paper is and always has been is more of psychographic and a lifestyle," Levine said.

Richard Karpel, executive director of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies in Washington, D.C., said that the free daily tabs are going after young readers but that's not necessarily what they'll get.

"Who they're going to get is people who have very short attention spans. Our [alternative weekly newspaper] readers tend to be pretty intelligent and open to spending time with the newspaper. These newspapers ... are designed to be 15 minutes and throw them away. Our papers provide more depth in what they do," Karpel said. "I'm not making any kind of judgment. They're making no bones about it. They're trying to get people who don't read."

Floyd Weintraub, director of corporate relations and corporate affairs for the new amNewYork, said the Metro's success - here and overseas, particularly with a non-affiliated London paper - show that the model works. He said amNewYork will be able to reach a demographic that has been elusive.

Karpel said New York City's a tough place for newspapers, not just for the paid dailies but also for the free circulation papers.

"Because there are so many free circulation products out there, it's become much harder to distribute," Karpel said. "This new free paper in New York is going to be that much less space for everyone else."