I don’t need to site any specific results from the countless studies regarding the reduced interest in newspapers by each younger generation – you are already familiar with this trend. It’s a big concern for all of us in the newspaper world and it’s forcing us to learn, grow and adapt in order to stay current with what the demands and habits of younger people are. But here’s a perspective that you may find refreshing!
I am Scott VanGilder, the purchasing and operations manager at Steel City Corp, and I’m approaching 32 years old. I’ve been in this line of work for 10 years now and have been on the team at Steel City for about two years, but I understand that to a lot of people in the newspaper industry I am a kid. College educated, married with kids and a mortgage, I consider myself more a peer of the Generation-X group, but studies and my birthday group me as a Millennial – and we’re the trouble makers shaking everything up.
As soon as I left for college, I never touched a newspaper and that was just fine. Like the vast majority of my friends, I went online for news … occasionally. Truth be told, I didn’t have much interest in the news – local, country, world, etc. I didn’t watch it on TV in the evening like my parents had done and I didn’t read it in the paper every morning like my Grandpa had always done. I was happy in my world and only cared about what I saw in front of me. This continued even as I graduated, got married, etc. Even as the world of smart phones and tablets grew and gave us immediate access pretty much wherever we stood, I simply had no interest.
Then I joined the team at Steel City. We receive our local paper, The Ashland Times-Gazette, every morning and the day I began my employment here is the day I started reading the paper. Almost instantly, I felt connected to the community and, wouldn’t you know it, I felt smarter. Today, I really enjoy taking a few minutes to lay the paper on our counter and flipping through the pages. I scan every headline seeing what peaks my interest – often times going one or two paragraphs into a story even if it doesn’t appeal to me at first glance. I’ve even submitted a letter to the editor because I felt compelled to counter-argue a point another community member had made the day previous. I’m hooked and I’m proud to say I will continue to read the paper every morning. Down the road, if I happen to be working for a different company, I know I will buy an annual subscription for the local paper on my own so I can continue to feel connected and more educated.
I’m not a smartphone guy, but assume in a couple of years I won’t have a choice. Even then, I don’t see myself moving away from the grip of the local paper and relying solely on the web. So maybe the challenge we need to have a solution for is how to turn guys like me into newspaper guys sooner. I was 29 when I started reading the paper every morning. I’ll tell you this, if my previous employer had a paper subscription, I would have been hooked at 27. Before that, I would have been hooked at 22. That the paper is free to me personally is nice, but now it doesn’t matter. That the paper could have been free to a 27 or 22 year old kid would have been a big deal. Something to consider for employers, schools, etc.
I think the hurdle for circulation departments is getting us kids to care about what’s happening and to understand that there’s something unique in turning the pages of a newspaper - I even like the feel and sound of it. So maybe its promotions, giveaways or something else that we need to consider and accept that it may take a little while, but the recipients of these gifts would likely turn into newspaper guys just like me. That’s my own personal story and suggestion, but I know that if Steel City did not receive the paper, I probably would still have no concern for the world around me. But, because it was put in front of me and I didn’t have to go out and get it, I’m hooked and I will be for as long as I see to read.