Why aren’t kids buying papers? And why are people still buying the Daily Mail? Answered

In today’s Observer, John Naughton has a fantastic rant (his own word) about how [most] people in newsrooms just don’t understand the teenagers who they so wish would buy their papers:

Today’s 21-year-olds were born in 1985. The internet was two years old in January that year, and Nintendo launched ‘Super Mario Brothers’, the first blockbuster game. When they were going to primary school in 1990, Tim Berners-Lee was busy inventing the world wide web. The first SMS message was sent in 1992, when these kids were seven. Amazon and eBay launched in 1995. Hotmail was launched in 1996, when they were heading towards secondary school.

Now look round the average British newsroom. How many hacks have a Flickr account or a MySpace profile? How many sub-editors have ever uploaded a video to YouTube? How many editors have used BitTorrent? (How many know what BitTorrent is?)

And while some of our teenagers’ interests coincide with ours, many do not. Here, for example, are the top blog tags on Technorati last night: Bush, careers, college, comedy, Congress, death, Democrats, elections, Flickr, gay, Halloween, Iraq, Microsoft, money, Republicans, Saddam, Ted Haggard, vote, war, breaking-news, tagshare, YouTube. Some you’ll recognise. But you won’t see much about many of these in the papers.

(A side note: there’s a page which measures whether the BBC is showing us what we want to read about, based on what’s on its top 10 front page headlines and its top ten most read stories. How in touch is the BBC?)

And while you’re digesting that, Roy Greenslade has the question that made Andrew Neil fall silent (praise be! I’ll ask it all the time!):

he did so during a question-and-answer session at the Society of Editors conference when asked about the apparent contradiction between the success of the newsprint Daily Mail and the fact that its owners have been very slow to engage with the internet. When he failed to offer an explanation that satisfied the questioner she pursued her point and he told her he would speak to her privately. That conversation never took place and I understand Neil later described her as “an anorak”.

The answer, as reckoned by Greenslade, turns out to be very interesting. But it still implies that the Mail needs an online strategy – though of course it does. (We’re even slightly jealous of their CMS that lets people comment on each story. Umm.)


  1. What is their online strategy – I remember exchanging letters with the publisher a couple of years back about the failings of their online version and am still amazed that they don’t place everything online – though perhaps that is them being smart.

  2. What I find interesting (considering how respected the Post, the NYTimes and the WSJ are) is the number of US newspapers that don’t have a online strategy. Recently, one newspaper (I think it was one of the west coast newspapers) asked its readers what sort of online strategy it should have, others have started asking the journalists in the news room as they couldn’t come up with one themselves. One idea proposed today is that all the newspapers should gang up and embargo their print stories by 24 hours before they appear on the web. Somehow I don’t think that would work. The bottom line is that the NYTimes has only been able to persuade 40,000 people to pay $50 per year to gain access to their web site. They have more than 1 million print subscribers who pay between $99-200 per year. Something like 15,000 people subscribe to a digital edition of Science or Nature. Considering the global reach of an online audience this suggests that current strategies will not work, unless they can persuade internet users to subscribe to print or make online ads more effective. The Post has taken a different take to get younger readers. Free cut down editions on the subway with lousy editorial standards. People treat the newspaper like trash and they only read it because they have nothing better to read. I think its a wrong business model. One thing they are doing right, is that you can easily link to flickr, declious, and other blogs from any article on their web site, probably one of their smarter decisions.

  3. That may be true in full-time employment, but a freelance like me does/has all those things. The question is how far that extends out of the technology, um, ghetto.


  4. I think the disconnect between today’s generations and the generations that have control of the media is placed in excellent context. However, I do not think we have to see the BBC in the way presented in that nifty web site. Some of the key words that people ‘actually want to read’ include Tom and Katie, honeymoon, cruise, nintendo, etc – as compared to the BBC’s Blair, pakistan, musharraf, etc.

    As a society, it seems obvious we want our coming generations to be fed with politically aware information over gossip and video games. How sad would it be if Tom and Kate and Nintendo take over the cover pages of our online magazines as a result of user demand? This is the type of ‘democracy’ that we should be afraid of.

    I think the issue is more that, usually, when the BBC does a report on say, the Nintendo Wii, is usually done by a 50 year old who has a hearty laugh with the co-host about how this ‘machine’ is, and the review is usually terrible and completely out of touch. Sort of like how I recently saw the President of NBC call MySpace, Myplace.

    I think it will be cool to see a generation of journalists who are still in touch with history, politics and the issues that ‘matter’ but can also be in tune with technology (journalists who can program is an excellent idea) and not always just surprised and out of touch with what it does.

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