A Doomed Seattle Times Ploy to Win Young Readers
"When your family has owned a newspaper for more than 100 years," Fancher wrote in his column last Sunday, "you think in terms of generations." It was generational thinking, Fancher continues, that inspired "Times Publisher Frank Blethen [to launch] 'Newspaper 2010,' a process to guide strategic decisions." Oh, that Frank Blethen. He's sooooo dreamy and strategic!
The result of Blethen's strategic thinking is NEXT, the Seattle Times' new kiddie page. Written by a small group of "writers" between the ages of 20 and 30, NEXT is the Seattle Times' effort to attract readers from "Generation Y." The same concerns about an aging readership that prompted the Chicago Tribune to start publishing a five-day-a-week tabloid for young adults (Red Eye) led the Seattle Times to unleash NEXT on the city. "Newspapers generally are struggling to attract younger readers," Fancher admits.
But Fancher would have us believe that problem isn't so bad at the Seattle Times. "We actually do relatively well with people 18 to 24," says Fancher. "Our most recent study found that in King and Snohomish Counties, 24 percent of the age group reads the average issue of the weekday Times and 37 percent the average Sunday Times.... That's pretty good compared with other publications. For example... The Stranger reaches only 16 percent of the 18-24s in the two counties."
Uh, Mike... if you're doing so well among 18-24s, why start NEXT? And about beating The Stranger among 18-24s in King and Snohomish Counties.... Mike, unlike the Seattle Times, The Stranger is barely distributed in Snohomish County. Averaging the two counties together to draw a comparison is a little more than dishonest. In King County, the average issue of The Stranger is read by more 18-24s than the average weekday issue of the Seattle Times.
As for the first installment of NEXT, I don't predict 18-24s will be getting into fistfights at Seattle Times newspaper boxes anytime soon.
NEXT, judging from NEXT #1, will feature writing that is earnest and predictable, clearly written to please the old-timers and Blethen butt-kissers who sit on NEXT's "editorial advisory board."