4 myths about young readers

By Pit Gottschalk

Funke Media Group

Berlin, Germany


Last month, when I visited Silicon Valley for the 10th time in five years, I took a break at Stanford University to see how media business is doing. All the technological developments we observe worldwide come from this place, where the best talents catch up and create, disrupting traditional industries step-by-step.

At d.school, the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford, design thinking is one of the methods used to learn how to do things in a different ways. Think of this blog post I wrote last year. So, I expected some inspiration about the next big thing.

But it wasn’t about that at all. I got lessons in newspaper making.

Visit to the d.school yields interesting list of what young readers do — and do not — want from news media companies.
Visit to the d.school yields interesting list of what young readers do — and do not — want from news media companies.

The girls who shared their insights with me told their story about what they experienced in Chicago. They tried to rescue a free newspaper distributed at the train and subway stations.

It was one of these stories we see all over the world. The newspaper offered anything editors see as relevant. Political and local news, serious and funny stories, nice pictures — you know this kind of stuff.

But of these girls dared a different approach and didn’t focus on demographic target groups as we’ve learned in business school.

Their team created RedEye Chicago in a way that fit in with the behaviour of potential readers and not necessarily with their age, income, or gender. They looked at the needs and expectations in the moment, when these people leave the train or the subway and are heading home. What about drinks or dinner? Anything needed at home? What’s on television tonight?

While doing so, they found out the young readership doesn’t behave as many folks think. The four most important, but wrong, myths of young readers were and are:

  1. As a media company, you just need a compelling mobile strategy to reach young readers.

  2. BuzzFeed is the mother of all the possible solutions; just copy.

  3. Young people just give attention to one-minute-videos.

  4. They don’t pay for content.

Again, these myths are totally wrong. Yes, they stick to their mobile devices — but because of the content these devices provide access to. Even for younger audiences, BuzzFeed and its listings are boring over the time. They are interested in good content and would even pay for this content. See Storify as an example.

But, what is good content in terms of young readership? That’s the wrong question, too.

The right question is: When is content relevant to young readers? Their approach to what they see as relevant is quite different. At Stanford, they found out how content should be adjusted:

  • Young readers define their own target group by brands their peers are talking about.

  • They need a social relationship to each other to confirm each other as human beings.

  • They don’t want to consume media, but would like to be part of the conversation to find solutions or have an impact on the process.

  • They want to share their experiences and development with friends.

  • They don’t desire a whole bundle of information, but the segment of content they’re interested in. For that, they would pay.

Now, think of your newspapers and online portals.

Does your news media company let people talk about brands such as clothes and cosmetics? Do you give young folks a chance to share their opinions in real time in an unfiltered setting? Are subgroups possible in the world of newspapers? Is your content compelling in the eyes of young people?

About Pit Gottschalk

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