How often do youngsters pick up a newspaper in a day and read a story or two? If that's pushing it, then maybe a fair question would be how many times youth read newspapers in a week. The simple answer to that is that they either simply do not read newspapers , or if they do, its as little as possible.
The shocking and sad truth is that youth newspaper readership has been declining over the last couple of years. Young people just aren't reading newspapers at all. Note, that this trend is particularly concerned with traditional media. Other media, especially new media have enjoyed growing readership, much to the detriment of traditional media. Global Trends in Media Consumption amongst Millennials has described and profiled millennials as individuals born between the years, 1981 to 2001. So these are youth ranging from 8- 28 years of age. As from 2007, these youngsters’ media consumption patterns have consisted of the fat that they spend most of their time perusing the internet at 37.16 hours a week, with only 2.9 hours dedicated to reading stories on print. Of these 37.16 hours surfing the net, only 8.61 hours are spent directly reading hard news and entertainment beats interchangeably.
This is a worrying trend.
So, the question then would be why youngsters are not reading news on print? Perhaps, as a youngster myself, I could bring the debate how the internet and cell phones make it convenient to read anything, seeing that they are portable- and I don't have to carry pages and pages of printed text with me. This could be a worthy debate, but in all truth and honesty, I do not read the news on my phone. I hate reading anything that is not a sms over the phone. I simply read news on the internet- but through a local area network computer on campus, a home PC or on my laptop. Just not on a cell phone. So this goes to show that there is a fundamentally deeper lacking in newspapers that has little to do with their inconvenient nature, or the current revolution of convergence or media digitization.
To cut the long story short, newspapers consider the youth as passive consumers of the news, and this is their first huge mistake. Youth wants to be involved in the production of news as well. They want to have a voice. That is the reason they are gravitating to the online news platforms, where they can interactively engage in citizen journalism and where their voice can be heard.
In the article, Youth are the News, Katina Paron, highlights that "Life-long readership of newspapers sustains the success of a news publication". Yet, to ensure this life long readership success, she emphasises that newspapers need to get youth involved as readers and active participants in the production of news- to ensure that they grow with this reading culture. The good news is there are ways for newspapers to involve young people in news media. Several propositions to do this surfaced at the World Young Readers Conference. It was discovered that youth want to have its own section in a newspaper- a section produced by the youth for the youth. And the youth ambassadors present at this conference proposed a 'PERFECT TEEN SECTION'- inclusive of vox pops, a separate identity from the parent newspaper with news and sports editorial, shout outs and a whole lot more fun but educational sections.
Here in Grahamstown, Grocott's Mail is doing a wonderful job to get youth more enthusiastic in reading newspapers. Grocott's Mail has developed a youth newspaper project called Upstart. All the content on upstart is produced by the youth. The paper even has an advice column and ‘letters to us’- where learners write to the paper about how it has helped them. There is also news, exams, careers, poetry, arts, games and shout outs sections.
Whilst addressing the Sol Plaatje Media Management postgraduate class, General Manager at Grocott's Mail, Louise Vale, acknowledged that "our country is in a state of urgency as far as youth readership is concerned." Louise was referring to the genesis of the Upstart youth supplement which has gotten the whole of young Grahamstown involved in and enthusiastic about reading newspapers and news production. Upstart is a project of Grocott's Mail that sees learners from underprivileged schools and former Model C schools work together in contributing content for the supplement. The youth supplement is catering for the emotional Diaspora of Grahamstown, combating the low literacy levels and poor matric results through improving the culture of newspaper readership. The project is managed by Shireen Badat and publishing intern, Nompumezo Makinana. The editorial team however, consists of student representatives from the different schools which contribute to Upstart.
So, it all starts here. Newspapers must give youngsters a platform to have a voice in the paper and must treat youngsters as equals in the production process, where issues that concern the youth are issues regarded equally important in the mainstream editorial hub. And most importantly- the issue of having a 55 year old ‘youth editor’ does not sink well with me. Have the youth manage its own issues because they will best represent it in a manner and language understandable to fellow youth- preventing being ‘talked down to’ as youth have explained.