The Readership Institute presented the results of its New Readers Study, conducted at the end of 2003 and beginning of 2004, on how different demographic groups “experience” their local daily papers and what papers can do to increase readership among young people and people of color. Managing director Mary Nesbitt presented the study's results on October 21st at a webinar entitled “Tapping a Young and Diverse Audience,” sponsored by the Newspaper Association of America (NAA). Nesbitt's talk stressed that in order to attract younger, more diverse readers, publishers need to make innovations and “revolutionary” changes, instead of focusing on improving and tweaking their existing structure and content.
The study, a follow up on the institute's 2000 Impact Study, surveyed 10,800 readers of 52 papers across the nation and looked at the newspaper organizations to see how workforce, management and expectations play into readers' experiences and readership. According to Nesbitt, the study showed that differences in reader responses and media use patterns have more to do with age than with gender or ethnicity. She stressed the fact that cohort replacement is not happening and warned that if newspapers are not willing to make major changes (innovations instead of improvements) that appeal to young, diverse readers, the next generation will be lost. In the study, all but 5 of the 48 papers surveyed were characterized by “defensive cultures, where risk-taking is not encouraged and cross departmental collaboration is infrequent.”
A major focus of the talk was the importance of creating “experiences” for readers. “Newspapers need to think first about the kind of experiences they want to create and then shape ‘content, service, brand and culture' to create those experiences,” said Nesbitt. The study identified 34 distinct reader experiences, both positive, “Motivators,” and negative, “Inhibitors.” The “experiences” with most potential impact on Hispanic readership were reducing “discrimination and stereotyping” and increasing “value for money.” Nesbitt emphasized the fact that young (under 35s) readers have a tepid response to newspapers. This lack of excitement, coupled with the results showing that young, diverse readers are looking for certain “key experiences,” equals a great opportunity for papers willing to reinvent themselves.