The eleventh obvious thing: Your subscribers are dying

Here’s a newsroom exercise sure to drive a stake of fear squarely into the heart of your circulation manager:

Count the number of obituaries printed in your paper in the last year for local residents over the age of 60.

Now compare that number to your paper’s drop in circulation over the same period.

If you see a correlation, you’re probably not alone.

At least once a week, it seems like another study or survey or poll or Pew report pops up explaining the obvious: The young’uns don’t care much for the newspaper these days.

Sure, you can go all Redeye and ASAP on their asses with a tab or a pretty site that shovels the same old news into a colorful, modernized wrapper, but *tricking* young people into reading the news isn’t exactly what I had in mind.

It’s the content, stupid.

(Yes, I realize I’m throwing around quite a few early-’90s references here. Forgive me – they were formative years.)

How many 18- to 30-year-olds in your town do you think give a shit about what the city council passed or didn’t pass at Tuesday night’s meeting? It’s not that they’re not politically active — don’t make that mistake — it’s that the issues are far more interesting than you make them out to be.

Let’s put it this way: I grew up on stories, not city council meetings, so why would you tell me a city council meeting when you could tell me a story?

Will a redesigned print edition or Web site bring in the flock to read about city council meetings and legislation that your local representative floated in a press release months before it will ever hit a committee, much less the House floor?

Again, if you’re serious about staying in business, you’re going to need content that the LIVING people in your circulation area are interested in. So let’s start brainstorming: What does the younger demographic in your town need to know, and how do you frame the story so it catches their eyes?

The print edition – y’know – for kids

Fellow SJSU grad student Patrick Dwire has a great cover story in this week’s Santa Cruz Good Times, one of our intrepid alternative weeklies here in the Cruz.

Patrick takes a look at what newspapers all over the country are doing to try and hook the 18-24 set. (Note to self: I’m not the target market. Sigh.)

Here’s why it’s important:

“The fate of newspapers may be more symptomatic of larger social shifts away from civic engagement and social pressures to be informed and involved, as well as rising criticism of the news media generally. The prognosis for well-informed young electorate keeping up with complex issues through local TV newscasts and Internet news portals is almost as depressing as newspaper readership statistics.”

What have newspapers done about it? Patrick has some great detail on the launches (and success/failure) of youth-oriented tabloids, weeklies, etc.

Check out the article… in print or online.