Newspapers and the Web: A Digital Dilemma

The modern news industry is a far cry from the so-called “golden age” of newspapers in the early twentieth century. Then, new papers were being created yearly and sales soared; today, the second Google instant search suggestion for “newspaper subscriptions” is “newspaper subscriptions decline.” In 1990, national daily subscriptions surpassed 62 million, but stood at only 43.4 million by 2010. The newspaper industry is struggling economically, and there are no easy answers.

Unread newspapers sit in a trash bin.
Unread newspapers sit in a trash bin.

Arguably the greatest threat to newspapers is the Internet. Because of the transient and easily updated nature of the Web, 24 hour news is extremely accessible. The majority of this news is free, which provides no subscription revenue and a somewhat volatile source of advertisement revenue. Today’s teenagers grew up in a Web-saturated environment; they have never experienced an age before the Internet, where newspapers were the primary source of everyday news. Likewise, many teens have never paid for their news, instead receiving it from free websites such as CNN. Changing their consumption habits is exceptionally difficult.

The best ways to lure a teenage audience to reading a newspaper are by providing low-cost, relevant, high quality content. I will personally never pay more than a dollar for a paper, whether or not it is a Sunday or special edition. Fifty cents is a more realistic amount for many teenagers, who are generally less economically privileged already. The content in newspapers must also be relevant; I personally find reading articles about the stock market interesting, but most teens don’t. Including a teen-focused section or featuring teen authors for smaller papers could create a draw to the paper. My local newspaper in Dubuque, Iowa – the Telegraph Herald – used to include an ALTernative section each Wednesday featuring comics, media reviews, and editorials from teen authors in the readership area. Even if I didn’t read the paper the rest of the week, I made sure to at least skim it each Wednesday. Having relevant content is crucial because the Internet already provides so much niche reading that it can easily draw readers to topic specific websites.

Creating high quality content is the last and most essential draw for a newspaper. This is where a print newspaper can separate itself from many online news sources. When readers pick up a printed paper, they expect to read grammatically correct, well-edited copy. The physical nature of the paper lends a sense of credibility and weight to the text that most online editions cannot successfully imitate. Offering in-depth, balanced presentations of different stories will draw a wide variety of readers to the paper. If you are asking readers to pay for something that can be found elsewhere for free, the quality must be worth the price.