How can one enthuse the youngest readers for a print product in the future? Tina Blaževic and I would like to share lessons on this topic from the introduction of the Kleine Children’s Newspaper, a spin-off of the well-known Kleine Zeitung in south Austria from the Styria media house.

For quite some time, a general international trend has been observed that when a decrease in young readership takes place, a shift to online media occurs. Since younger readers are at the same time the readers of tomorrow, a decrease in this group is at first sight alarming and threatening for print titles.

This development was the reason the Kleine Zeitung thought about what can be done against this trend. Finally, after numerous considerations, discussions and analysis, it was decided to introduce a special spin-off of the Kleine Zeitung, which was designed in particular for the youngest readers between the ages of 6 and 11. This product was introduced to inspire children at an early age to read in general, and to get interested in print media. In addition, the product should make a valuable educational contribution.

A weekly 16-page newspaper was created, which can only be bought as an independent product through subscription. For present subscribers of the Kleine Zeitung, it costs €4.90 per month, and €6.90 for non-subscribers.

The newspaper is designed in particular for the target group — for example, all texts are published in a language appropriate for children and in an adequate design. Although one does not omit current topics, a special focus is put on interactive elements like riddles and brainteasers, as well as on content elements that are proposed or created by the readers.

How was the Kleine Children’s Newspaper developed? It was not a linear process. At the beginning, the editorial department developed a pilot, which was discussed with children of the target group (160 children) and then slightly adapted. After doing so, however, it became clear that the product did not live up to the expectations of the potential readers — neither content-wise nor design-wise. The product was at this point too close to a “translation” of a newspaper for adults.

The comments of the children were taken seriously, and the concept was completely revised. This revision was undertaken with relevant experts as well as with children of the target group. Experts were brought in from different disciplines — on one side, one consulted linguists, and on the other side educationalists and child psychologists. The outcome was a totally new concept of the Kleine Children’s Newspaper which was designed in particular to fulfill the expectations, needs and absorption capacities of the target group.

Because of these experiences, this process is not considered complete — the consultation of experts and children of the target group is considered an ongoing necessity. In this way an adequate further development of the product can be guaranteed without designing past the client (in this case, the young readers).

Furthermore, a broad mix of additional and quality management measures were introduced in the operational business:

  • Meetings of the editorial staff take place regularly in schools, where on the basis of the last issue children’s desires, suggestions and ideas are discussed and are partly integrated in future issues.

  • To some extent the children are integrated as “children reporters,” so that they act for example as “co-reporters” in interviews with famous people.

  • Editors are encouraged to attend special educational courses, which help them to explain serious content in a child-appropriate way.

  • With regard to special or rather critical daily news, the editors are in direct contact with various experts, who help them explain the content to children.

On the part of teachers, there was much positive feedback. As a result, a special free online platform for teachers was developed where many actual content elements of the newspaper are available as downloads and can be used in class.

This case study of the success of the children’s newspaper is to show several things:

  • Even young readers are quite enthused for print products when these print products align with their specific needs and expectations.

  • An alignment of a product to a specific target group is hard to implement from scratch — it requires the interactive dialogue with representatives of the planned target group and as well (in this case) the inclusion of relevant external experts.

“Kleine Zeitung is proud of ultimately having developed a perfectly tailored educational and extremely valuable product for the very challenging target group of the youngest readers which has received great acceptance on the market,” said Walter Hauser, who is jointly responsible with his team for the idea and implementation of the children’s newspaper. “And as we can see, the parent’s willingness to pay is also given. I think that with this launch, we have also shown that economic goals and interests — that Kleine Zeitung of course also pursues — and the social educational mandate don’t contradict, but are concurrent in the best case.”

Finally, Hauser said, the introduction of a children’s newspaper also revealed that young readers certainly can be enthused for traditional print products, and not only for online media: “Our goal is to inspire children to read, and to educate them.”

“The Kleine Children’s Newspaper is a first conscious and important brick towards safeguarding of future readers,” he said. “This is just a first step; we are working on further concepts.”