Let your youngest journalists do stories about what interests them

I’ve never been comfortable with the idea of newspapers creating “teen” sections or youth-oriented publications and web sites.

I say, if you want to reach a younger audience, make the things that interest them part of your daily routine.

Larry Atkins says we need to include their voices. (via Ypulse)

For a long time, newspaper editors comforted themselves with the false notion that “when they grow up,” they’ll become readers. Of course, that has turned out to be untrue. The untruth, however, led editors down the path of thinking they could keep on doing what they were doing, and everything would turn out fine. And what they were doing was concentrating on “serious journalism.”

Lots of newspapers, especially small newspapers, hire lots of young writers, kids out of college just starting out. I say it’s time that we turn them loose and let them write stories they find relevant to their lives, not just what is on their beats. In fact, maybe nobody under 25 should have a beat. They should all be GA and told, think about what you and your friends talk about and turn those topics into local stories.

This piece on a real-life Simpsons family comes to mind.

This isn’t something you do on a part-time, catch-as-catch-can basis, though. To attract young readers, we need to put forth the concerted effort to include their voices, their perspectives and their interests.

The problem isn’t that young people are uninterested in the world around them; They just are not necessarily interested in what mature journalists call news. Not yet at least, and maybe never (not in the way, say, the depression generation was).

We may never turn today’s teens and young adults into newsPAPER readers, but if we want to have a future as local media organizations, we need to find a way to get today’s younger audiences clued into our information products.

It isn’t about launching the right web site with hip graphics, a little social networking and a tolerance for racy language. Those tactics have their place, but content is still king.

Ryan Sholin recently posted similar thoughts: Find yourself a nice comfortable niche and sell it like blueberry pancakes.

12 thoughts on “Let your youngest journalists do stories about what interests them

  1. We started just such a beat – albiet for the interactive side – about 18 months ago. Our writer’s beat is to have fun, then write, blog, videotape and publish. Recently, she recorded a rap song with a local singer (videotaping it all for the Web site).

    She posts on our sites, myspace, youtube, etc.

    Traffic is growing slowly, but we know this is a good direction to go in, and fortunately we have a publisher who understands and supports what we’re trying to achieve.

  2. How about some links?

    Also, I’d say, get her in print, too.  Young people do pick up their parents paper once in a while (movie times, classifieds, calendar, entertainment, sports), and some times parents say, “hey, did you see this?”  Your paper is still a great promotional vehicle for everything you do on the web.

  3. Howard,

    Here are a couple of links:

    Our main A&E page is AtomicTown.com.

    Our young writer, Bethany Lee, has a blog called BethZilla.

    We promote the site almost daily in print (often on A1 or A2) but haven’t put much of the content itself in the paper – yet. The site also is prominently promoted on our home page (which we redesigned last week).

  4. Maybe it’s my age, but the rambling, pointless piece on real-life Simpsons would have me canceling my newspaper subscription faster than anything else.

    The problem IS that young people are uninterested in the world around them. Not young people in general, but the young people who are attracted to working at newspapers.

    Let’s get real, Howard. Newspapers are unwilling to pay what it takes to attract and nurture the kind of talent that’s necessary to grow their audience, and even more unwilling to grant that talent the freedom it needs.

    The result is that newspapers draw their young writers from an ample pool of the under-talented and the semi-literate. They have no clue about the complexities of our society, and are often unwilling to acquire any clues. The hardest thinking they engaged in during their college career was figuring out a way to avoid taking a hard science or a challenging math course. They come fully equipped with an almost limitless resentment toward their young compatriots who are achieving anything meaningful.

    If newspapers want to reform themselves the first step is to stop hiring journalists and communications majors and start hiring people who know something and are truly engaged in the world around them.

  5. We happen to employ a whole bunch of really smart, well educated, very talented young journalists, including the one you just took a swipe at. I have a great deal of faith in the young people entering our profession. I work with them every day.

    Are you saying the only smart people in journalism are old? Well, we all started out young at some point, and relatively speaking, at the same pay scale, or worse. So are you saying all journalists are stupid?

  6. […] howardowens.com: media blog » Blog Archive » Let your youngest journalists do stories about what interests them “Young people are interested in the world; They just are not interested in what mature journalists call news. We may never turn today’s teens and young adults into newsPAPER readers.” (tags: media+evolution generations newspapers news+biz journalism tidbits+fodder) […]

  7. I “took a swipe” at a story, Howard, not at a person.

    I also work every day with the young people entering your profession, and have for 20 years. By the standards of the journalism trade they are, to use your phrase, “really smart, well educated, very talented.”

    Early in my career I practiced law for 5 years with one of Chicago’s largest law firms. A very different set of standards prevails in that kind of environment, where the starting pay is now $160K a year, and in many other environments that attract our most talented young people.

    Journalism simply doesn’t pay enough to attract the best of America’s young. As to whatever alternative satisfaction one might derive from writing about the local Simpsons – that’s beyond my meager abilities to comprehend.

  8. Joe, Newspapers can’t pay journalists a starting salary of 160k. Period. The economic model isn’t there, and ad dollars are getting tighter.

    So what’s your solution? The prescription above seems pretty vague.

  9. Howard,

    I’m aware of the economics of journalism. I wish I had a solution, but I don’t.

    I think a starting point is to set aside the pretensions as to the quality of the content. It simply isn’t there, and can’t be with the kind of talent that the newspaper model currently supports.

    On my own dime, I’m planning to hire fewer, better people – i.e., non-journalists – at a higher pay rate and manage them for greater productivity. I’m searching for a focus on a few things that we do better than anyone else.

    That focus implies, among other things, not allowing the young to exercise their creativity – they simply don’t know enough that’s useful to any of my readers, and their judgment as to what interests people is radically off target. My publication is a niche vertical, but I think some of these same principles apply in broader contexts.

  10. Money and the ability to be creative is a very big limiting factor in this industry. As a young producer/web journalist, I’ve run up against it a few times.

    The problem is, if there isn’t an incentive given to youth (that being money or the ability to be creative) you will have them straying and building businesses (competition) of their own.

    The guys who made hits like reddit, google, facebook, whatever that becomes a big thing, all did it in early 30s and 20s, sometimes teens. The lure of scoring a big buyout is much more attractive when thinking about slaving away at a newspaper or news website during your youth.

    I don’t have a solution for it though, other than to allow creativity more for young people. embrace the kids, or they’ll find another place to go

Leave a Reply