Newspapers Skipping a Generation

Newspapers Skipping a Generation

James T. Madore, staff writer for Newsday, reporting on recent response to an online request for newsreading habits, notes that young adults are turning away from the news media their parents and grandparents rely on for information about their neighborhood, region and world. The trend started 30 years ago but has accelerated since the late 1990s. It is now seen by many as a crisis that threatens the long-term survival of some celebrated news organizations.

The prospect of losing an entire generation - those 18 to 34 years old, whose numbers rival that of the Baby Boom - has produced activity at many companies. Gannett Co. and Knight Ridder Inc. are rolling out weekly sections filled with reviews of movies and rock bands, listings of events, gossip and attitude that are inserted into the papers and distributed for free at nightclubs, coffeehouses and other youth hangouts. Time, Newsweek and other newsmagazines have beefed up their reporting on college life and social issues such as abortion rights and sexual abstinence. The TV networks and news radio stations are doing the same, and some are giving greater visibility to young anchors and correspondents.

"The demographic trends do not favor one-size-fits-all news products," said Peter Francese, founder of American Demographics magazine, which tracks population changes.

According to surveys conducted by Scarborough Research, 41 percent of young adults read a daily newspaper last year, virtually unchanged from 2001. And research by Newsday showed that its pages are seen at least once a week by more than half of all 18- to 34-year-olds. Going after 18- to 34-year-olds is important since advertisers, which account for two-thirds of the revenue at most media companies, want to sell their goods and services to young people.

33 percent of U.S. families led by someone age 25 to 34 bought a daily newspaper in 2001 compared with 63 percent in 1985, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This absence of youth has been blamed for shrinking circulation at many dailies of as much as 1 percent to 2 percent per year. The average age of a newspaper reader is 53.

Where 18-to 34-year olds in the New York metro area get their information:

  • Daily newspaper 55%
  • Sunday newspaper 56%
  • Magazine 94%
  • Internet 80%
  • Radio 92%
  • Television 79%

    Source: Newsday, Inc. Figures for adults in Nassau Suffolk and Queens based on Scarborugh surveys 2002; magazine readership percentages based on Simmons Fall 2001 NCS.

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