At the IDC Conference, Directions yesterday, I said Generation Y doesn’t read the newspaper. And MediaSlut picked up on it asking what newspapers can do in response. Coincidentally, Today ran an article today about the state of Singapore’s journalism.
Before, I begin, a clarification:
I did not mean to say that my generation doesn’t read news. I think we do. Just not the papers. The question at the panel was whether online is the new “it” in media, and coming from a communications standpoint, of course it is. Is there another medium that has more messages sent and received than online?
We don’t spend half an hour thumbing through the papers in the morning, we’re reading the latest Harry Potter in e-book format on the train.
We don’t spend 3 hours a night watching tv after coming home. We’re watching tv online, chatting to people, working on homework and maybe even playing a game.
In an advertising class I was once told “think about where your consumers spend their time”. I spend 75% of my waking hours online. That pretty much guarantees that if your message is restricted to traditional media, I’m not going to see it.
I know MediaSlut isn’t asking me about why I don’t read the papers. But I feel you have to understand that to move forward. Some are more specific to me, some are general for Generation Y.
Why I don’t read the papers
1) News finds me. I don’t mean it’s offered to me on a platter, but that if it’s a particularly relevant piece of news, someone is going to blog about it, send me an email with an URL attached or just tell me about it on MSN.
2) I need my information to be relevant. Let’s say I can read 10 articles a day. These 10 need to be relative to me (ie marketing or communications related). Reading 10 articles in my niche adds much more value that reading 10 articles (or more) about unrelated happenings in the world. Put another way, an economist is going to find relevant articles about changing interest rates or inflation much more valuable than the latest way to use Twitter. And vice versa for me. So to either the economist or myself, it makes more sense to subscribe to a blog or someone who talks about that niche or to just Google “changing interest rates today”, as opposed to flipping through 10 pages of unrelated text.
Points #1 and #2 are very important. Firstly, the papers are no longer a convenient source of news. Secondly, even if I did have a copy of the Straits Times hanging around, I wouldn’t thumb through it because I know only 10% (or less) of what’s in there matters to me. I can see ten headlines in my RSS reader and pick the one article that is relevant, in a fraction of the time it will take me to flip through 10 articles (including ignoring the disruptive ads)
3) Papers are slow. It’s not their fault, I know. Papers are published daily, not hourly, I get that. But explain to me how I hear about an Outram MRT shooting via Twitter, check out the CNA website and it’s not there? Yes I know CNA’s Twitter mentioned it, but sorry, dead man found at Outram MRT is not the same as man shot at Outram MRT.
4) Gen Y wants different things. I have no empirical evidence for this, but a communications professor told me once in school that what the newspapers publishes and considers “news”, is not what the public wants to read and considers “news”. He was comparing the front page of Digg to the front page of any newspaper. I think there’s some truth in there. How much, I don’t know. But one of my RSS feeds is to del.icio.us’s front page, and not that of the Straits Times.
So what can print do?
In all honesty, I don’t have the answer. I cannot think of something, that if present, would make me read the papers. But here are a couple of minor suggestions.
1) Speed. If I read about it on Twitter, please have it on the CNA website so I can verify that it’s true and read the truth.
2) Accuracy. If you can’t be fast, at least be accurate. If a man was shot, please say he was shot, not just “dead”. Shootings don’t happen every day in Singapore, post the tweet 3 minutes later if you have to, but make it representative.
3) Convince me of your value. Unrelated sources commenting on unrelated topics? Sorry, not buying it.
4) Be accessible. If I Google something and it directs me to a Straits Times link which then asks me to be a subscriber (free or otherwise), that’s it. I close the window and move on.
5) Be human. I wanted to present on this at Pecha Kucha night. Traditionally, journalists were immense gatekeepers of the media. I’m sorry to say that’s not it anymore. Maybe that explains my interviews yesterday. I’m “just another peon” to be interviewed by the venerated gatekeepers, and the peon should be honoured to have his name in the press. Sorry, doesn’t work that way.
Does MSM still have a place?
I think it does. As much as I’m a social media advocate, some things just don’t fly. I always use this as an example: NTUC (or Wal Mart) needs newspapers. That’s where their “aunties” find out about the deals and coupon clippings. I understand that. As long as this demand is there, MSM will have it’s place.
I’m going to come back to the point I was trying to make at Directions. This demand is not there for my generation. We don’t interact with MSM the same way people 10 years older do. If you sit up there looking at your old model and think “Oh it’s your loss, you ignorant younger generation”, I think you’re very mistaken. As I mentioned, I can think of nothing that newspapers can do to make me turn back to print. The question is what can you do to engage me online? Hint: subscription isn’t the way.
Incidentally, the issue of censorship of non-freedom of the press etc isn’t an issue for me. I know how Singapore works and that’s fine. Just make up for it in other areas.
Referring again back to the article in Today, “State of Sinapore Journalism”, there’s advice for the five stakeholders for journalists/newspapers. I have issues with two:
Read widely and hold Singapore newspapers to the standards of international publications such as Financial Times and The Economist. Make yourselves heard to the news organisations
Make ourselves heard? No. How about newspapers make yourselves heard and engage us instead? The biggest threat to newspapers is not that we think they’re substandard. The biggest threat is if we’re indifferent to them and don’t notice either way. And I guarantee you it’s easier to click that little “x” on my Firefox browser and switch to an alternative source online, than to write an email to the editor to make myself heard.
Look beyond readership figures. Shift your advertising dollar to newspapers with premium brand names held in high regard by the community
Yes, look beyond the readership figures, but I think it’s presumptuous to write as if the corporation’s ad spend options are between newspaper and newspaper. If I were to remove my ad spend from newspapers, they’re moving somewhere else entirely. If I were to move advertising to a medium with “premium brand names held in high regard”, maybe something like CNet would be a better option than Digital Life.
These are my thoughts. I don’t speak for the whole of Generation Y, and I’m sure there are many people who will take opposing views, so let’s hear them! Comment away!