Newspaper Groups Test Special Gen Y Editions

Two major newspaper groups have stuck their toe into the water, to test the potential for specially produced publications aimed at Generation Y. A third promises to follow suit next month. In a pair of Midwest experiments, Tribune and Gannett have launched special editions that could serve as a model for similar projects at sister newspapers around the country.

According to Northwestern University’s Media Management Center, the number of daily newspaper readers between 21 to 25 year olds is half of what it was in the early 1970’s. Then, 45% of young people opened one up. In 2002, just one-in-five reads a newspaper everyday. Separate research by the Newspaper Association of America (NAA) found that 64% of teenagers read the paper at least once a week. “There is a misconception about young readers of newspapers,” says Tim Kennedy, VP of strategy and development for Tribune. “Newspapers do a very good job of attracting young readers, we just don’t have the frequency that we would like.”

To get younger generations into the habit of picking up the paper, Tribune and Gannett are spending what will likely be millions of dollars. “It is a high priority,” says NAA VP Randy Bennett. While noting that newspapers don’t have the high start-up costs that a standalone may, they are spending a lot of time on such projects. “There is a lot of attention about how we will engage with young people who are reading the newspaper less than a generation ago.” After years of research, two products hit the market this month.

This week, Tribune debuts Red Eye – it’s flashy new four-color tabloid aimed at Chicago’s young readers. The paper will be published Monday through Friday and will be sold in bright red vending machines around the city for 25-cents. Tribune says its circulation goal is 100,000, although that number may not be reached for a few weeks. Part tabloid, part USA Today, part Internet news site, the target is the on-the-go Gen Y reader. “Our health section may include a story about fitness instead of Alzheimer’s or cancer,” explains co-editor Jane Hirt, describing how Red Eye is different that its big brother, the Chicago Tribune. While Red Eye will borrow some staff, plus plenty of behind-the-scenes infrastructure.

Although more than one million 18-to-34 year olds read the Chicago Tribune at least once a week, that is only about half the population in the demo. “We’re not anticipating cannibalizing on the readership or advertising side of the Tribune,” says Red Eye general manager John O’Loughlin. In fact, he believes some news junkies may even read both. With a 50/50 editorial/advertising split, 30 of its daily 60 pages will be available to advertisers. “It’s being sold very differently than most newspapers since we have a fixed-inventory,” explains O’Loughlin. That means premium positions will carry premium prices. Among the advertisers so far have been Caribou Coffee and Lookingglass Theatre.

Not to be outdone, the Chicago Sun-Times is launching its own paper targeting younger readers, Red Streak. Unlike Red Eye, Red Streak will be an afternoon publication – in part to avoid competition with its own Sun-Times. Sun-Times executives, pointing out they already attract a large number of 18 to 34 year old readers, is launching Red Streak purely as a defensive move against Tribune's start-up. "It's an old fashioned newspaper war," says a Sun-Times spokeswoman.

What happens in Chicago may effect what other Tribune properties like the Los Angeles Times or the Hartford Courant do to attract younger readers in their markets. “Red Eye is a model in so much as all of our papers are looking at ways to attract young readers,” says Kennedy. “Whether the answer for every paper is Red Eye, we don’t know.” He points out that every paper is looking at what to do concurrently, so they may not wait to see what happens in Chicago before moving in other markets.

Arlington, VA-based Gannett is also closely monitoring what happens in Lansing, Michigan. That is where its paper, the Lansing State Journal, this month launched its Gen Y appeal called Noise. “This is something that Gannett has been interested in for a long time, “ says Noise editor and general manager Rich Ramhoff. In fact, Gannett plans to test-market a similar weekly at the Idaho Statemen in Boise.

In Noise’s debut issue, with such stories as how yoga improves one’s backside to tips on where to have outdoor sex, Gannett is clearly aiming for a very different reader. Unlike Tribune’s Red Eye, Noise is a free weekly, so heavily designed it resembles a magazine more than newspaper. Backed by a multimedia TV, radio, and outdoor ad campaign, as well as promotion in the Journal, Noise hopes to grow its circulation to 20,000. Advertising support was stronger that expected, says Ramhoff. The debut issue was slated to be 28 pages, but that was bumped up to 48. “It’s pent up demand,” he explains. “It’s been a long time coming.”

Whether enough advertising dollars will shift away from TV, radio and the Internet to support the younger-skewing newspapers remains to be seen. For the moment, Bennett says newspapers are concerned more with stopping circulation declines than ad dollars. Yet with more entertainment, movie studio, food and beverage dollars aimed at Gen Y, Kennedy says optimistically, “If we create the audience, I think there will be demand from advertisers.”

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