Missing the target

The Globe and Mail is ignoring educated people under thirty-five, writes Annie Burns-Pieper. What’s more, she adds, if changes aren’t made soon it’s going to cost them. Big time.

Last October, Globe and Mail editor-in-chief John Stackhouse characterized the paper’s target readership as educated, affluent people between the ages of 35 and 65. If you’re at all familiar with The Globe and Mail’s content, this comes as no surprise — but it does seem like a blunder.

Most of us are aware that newspapers are suffering financially. This has to do with the difficulty of finding profitable business models when most content is available free online and advertisers don’t pay as much for these online spots as they would have in print. However, declining readership is also to blame. Many have accused young people for the decrease in sales, bemoaning Generation Y’s perceived obsession with technology and social media.

Marc Edge is one of those people. The Department of Mass Communication professor at Sam Houston State University has often commented on the future of newspapers. He says the reason young people aren’t reading newspapers is because of “other distractions”, such as video games, the internet. “There are just so many choices now,” he adds, “When I was young there wasn’t much to do besides read the newspaper.”

As a well-educated person under the age of thirty I find this, frankly, offensive. I have never played video games and I want to be engaged by current affairs. True, The Globe and Mail does not engage me, but the internet is not to blame — it’s the content. Simply put: it’s geared for the middle-aged.

I understand newspapers can’t please everybody, nor should they. Still, ignoring the next generation of educated, and even possibly affluent, people between 35 and 65 just seems like a self-destruct mechanism.

When asked if this was something the paper thought about, the deputy national editor of The Globe and Mail, Gregory Boyd, said, “we think it important and we do it.” But a look at the paper suggests otherwise.

News and columns at the paper are written from a life view that is — at least — twenty years older than most university aged people today. Political references from the 80s are thrown in, forgetting that, in fact, most of Generation Y was in diapers when Trudeau was in office.  Moreover, youth cringe when out-of-touch columnists try to explain what a hipster is and embarrassingly miss all kinds of marks. While the Report on Business occasionally tackles issues of youth employment and student debt, those types of articles are far outweighed by others on pensions, mortgages and defective condos.

The challenge for The Globe and Mail is to engage the next generation of readers. For me, the first step is getting young voices into the newsroom and including content that directly affects young people: unemployment, student debt, and the cost of living. Another step is giving appropriate background in articles. Just because someone doesn’t have personal knowledge of a historical event doesn’t mean they wouldn’t be interested in a related news story — if it were contextualized.

Finally, by making newspapers affordable for this age group, or even free, newspapers could create reading habits. In an effort to engage youth and aid the industry, some countries, such as France, have tried giving those aged 18-24 free newspapers. Youth can receive a free yearlong newspaper subscription to the newspaper of their choice. France’s minister of culture Frédéric Mitterrand was quoted on the subject in The New York Times saying, “winning back young readers is essential for the financial survival of the press, and for its civic dimension.”

Needless to say, Mitterrand has a point. There seems to be a general delusion in the newspaper industry that we grow into our news sources like we grow into parenting, home ownership and pension plans, but this is not the case. Whether youth read the paper in print or on an iPhone, they want to be engaged with the news and are frustrated by content that doesn’t consider their worldview. If newspapers simply wait for younger audiences to come to them, they may end up waiting forever.

Annie Burns-Pieper is a master of journalism student at Ryerson University. She also holds a master’s degree in Global Economic History from the London School of Economics. She is currently an intern at CBC’s the fifth estate and has also interned with the BBC’s documentary unit.