Amedia cracks the code on how to attract younger readers: journalism

By Eivor Jerpåsen

Amedia AS

Oslo, Norway

By Pål Nedregotten

Amedia AS

Oslo, Norway

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During 2019, Amedia saw a powerful surge in the number of engaged younger subscribers. Underpinning the growth is a systematic look at data — and implementing the findings into 78 newsrooms. 

The questions we faced were: How do we write journalism appealing to younger audiences? To get them to subscribe? To retain them?

The answer, we found, is relevant journalism — across all topics. There are no “youth topics.” It’s the way you cover them that makes them relevant. Politics is actually interesting to younger readers when handled right. We spent 2019 creating a playbook with our 78 newsrooms to create meaningful change over time. 

The result is striking: The number of sales in the sub-40 bracket has increased 77% — compared to an average of 50% in other age groups. And while the number of subscribers older than 40 has increased 1%, the growth in subscribers below 40 went up 15%. 

 

The number of sales in the segment below 40 has increased 77%.
The number of sales in the segment below 40 has increased 77%.

Thinking younger for the future

A core challenge for legacy publishers is that their traditional customer base skews more than a little old. This represents a fundamental challenge: If we’re unable to remain relevant to the young, then the clock is ticking for our entire business.

Fortunately, throughout our transition to a digital subscription economy, all data have pointed in the same direction: It is possible to attract younger customers. It is possible to engage them. And it is possible by adjusting our journalism — without sacrificing quality. 

The question is how. 

A systematic approach

In 2019, we approached the topic systematically:

  • Focus groups with 72 subscribers from six newspapers, with answers from the below-40 analysed.
  • Initial data analysis of 1,000 articles, gauging propensity to engage below-40 readers. 
  • Initial communication of findings to all newsrooms. 
  • In-depth testing of concrete hypotheses with motivated newspapers. 
  • Another thorough analysis of a much larger article data set, with improved data, splitting engagement on gender as well as age cohort. (A key finding: Age of sources tend to correlate with age of the engaged reader.) 
  • An updated dashboard to track editorial engagement with the target segment.
This dashboard allows newsrooms to monitor their progress.
This dashboard allows newsrooms to monitor their progress.

We also formulated a playbook on how to write journalism that engages the 30-39 age bracket: 

  • Think from a young perspective. For example: Can we tell a story from the real estate market in a way that feels relevant for a family with kids?
  • Interview people under 40.
  • The usual news criteria apply.
  • Schools, kindergarten, labour market, and nightlife are of particular interest, but all topics can engage.
  • Seek out sources in contact with kids or parents to discover particular story ideas.

Effects of skewing younger

The effect of the engagement strategy is striking when you look at the journalism our newspapers produce: less grey-haired men in power positions and far more younger faces — both in pictures and in text. But also, and significantly, in sales to the below 40 age group.

Skewing content to a younger audience includes interviewing younger sources.
Skewing content to a younger audience includes interviewing younger sources.

Amedia, as a whole, has seen a 15% growth curve in the below-40 demographic in the subscription base in 2019. Our journalism has changed, with younger sources and stories that younger age cohorts care about. Reassuringly, a story that is well-read among younger readers more often than not performs equally well among an older demographic. 

The growth of subscribers in Amedia’s local newspapers are mainly driven by the increase in subscribers under 40. (Statistics from January 2020.)
The growth of subscribers in Amedia’s local newspapers are mainly driven by the increase in subscribers under 40. (Statistics from January 2020.)

Finally, we do not see this work as a one-off effort. We need to be aware that the choices we make as journalists every day — who we talk to and the stories we cover — actually shape the impact of our journalism as well as our long-term viability as credible sources of information for our communities.  

The foundation of our position — and the future financing of our journalism — is relevant content. The work we’ve done on younger readers has generated a firm belief that we’re able to navigate challenging times successfully. 

Banner image courtesy Wendy Wei from Pexels

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