Can younger audiences be reached?

Interesting piece from Media Life on innovation at newspaper Web sites.

Here’s an interesting tidbit:

In its study, Belden also found that newspaper site audiences have aged five years over the past five years, even though overall newspapers’ online audience continues to grow. That, says Greg Harmon, Belden’s director for interactive, “is pointing to the fact that newspaper web sites are drawing people who are already newspaper readers.”

Harmon says publishers can change that by offering the right content on their sites. “The battle for 18-34s is by no means lost if publishers take advantage of the content-building opportunities that are available to them,” says Harmon.

This overlaps with something I’ve been thinking about the past day or two.

In the past year or so that I’ve been reading N.L. Belardes, I’ve become distinctly aware that he and a contingent of his audience have absolutely no need for the MSM. They are downright hostile to it. In Belardes’ case, it seems more a mixture of fascination and distrust. But his attitudes seem to feed and illuminate a deeper hostility among some of his readers.

The whole notion of “news as a conversation”? Forget it, if it includes MSM. They want their own news, their own way, from their own peers.

I haven’t seen even the most radical of the new media gurus, such as Jarvis and Rosen, who think newspapers aren’t doing enough to become digital natives, address the question of: What if younger audiences just don’t want us? What if no matter how much we adapt to the MySpace world, there is just no place for us?

There are two points worth making. First, the “we hate everything MSM” may just be a minority view. I wouldn’t go too far with the observations drawn from just one blog (but I also believe there is a whole Web universe that pulsates with life little nourished by MSM). And it may be a transient view, imbued by youth and fun to shout. Second, there still may be a large enough audience for many decades to come without attracting this particular segment of audience.

It’s dangerous to fall into mass-media thinking. We don’t have to appeal to everybody, nor should we try. There is no such thing as mass media on the Web.

I would also add that if we don’t adapt to the new technology and ideas in a way that even our current, loyal audience finds useful and interesting, then we’ll just lose that audience to those innovators who will.

More from the article:

But Sands says the key to attracting daily visitors is likely what the best blogs do well: aggregating information and linking outward and away. That’s something newspaper people are loathe to do, but the irony, says Sands, is that sending users away may be the key to getting them to come back each day.

“I really think one of the biggest challenges for us in the newspaper industry is to figure out how to aggregate better, and that’s really counter-intuitive for us old print guys. You have to make peoples’ lives easier and more effective, and the only way to do that is to make web surfing easier and more effective for them. The sites that are most successful on the web are the ones that aggregate.”

I agree. Newspaper Web sites, or TV sites, if they want to claim the crown of the biggest Web site in town, should be a central repository for every bit of local information they can field and serve. That includes linking to other sites and other publications. The link is a powerful, potent tool, too seldom used by MSM sites.

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