Prediction: How geezers will adapt to web, mobile for news

By Steve Outing

Here’s a little prediction that’s been spinning around my head lately. I’ll release it here on my blog to leave room in there for something else. :)

As newspapers (especially the larger metros, which face the worst declines) continue to lose staff, lose ad revenues, and in general get lower in quality, their loyal older readers will get fed up. Flashy designs (like those at Tribune Co. papers) will be seen as merely masking the decline of the product, and we’ll see newspapers’ core older audience of print readers and subscribers flee in significant numbers.

Of course, that demographic (I’m talking mostly about over-45) will still want news, but the quality decline of print newspapers will force them to look elsewhere. The decimation of print editions will move older news consumers — many of whom have resisted the siren call of digital news — to adapt to the digital media lifestyle, at last.

Newspaper companies of course will have the opportunity to retain these older readers. But they’ll need to put most of their resources into improving digital news delivery and innovating further there, rather than focusing majority effort on modernizing the print edition.

I’d love to get the reaction of Tribune Co. folks to this prediction, since they seem to be investing so much into resurrecting their print franchises. (We haven’t heard as much about Tribune’s digital innovations, so I’m curious to learn more about their thinking there.)

What do you think? Am I being too pessimistic? Or do you think this is how the newspaper situation will play out in the next year or two?

Author: Steve Outing Steve Outing is a Boulder, Colorado-based media futurist, digital-news innovator, consultant, journalist, and educator. ... Need assistance with media-company future strategy? Get in touch with Steve!

18 Responses to "Prediction: How geezers will adapt to web, mobile for news"

  1. Howard Owens
    Howard Owens 9 years ago .Reply

    When I was at the Ventura County Star, I used to talk about the Tsunami effect — a tipping point idea.

    One day I realized that I had converted from a newspaper reader to an online news consumer, and I thought – yeah, and I’m an early adopter for my age group.

    And my question to my fellow executives was: What happens if 5, 10, 15 percent of our subscribers all make the same realization in the same month … how devastating would it be to lose ten percent or more of our readership in such a quick fashion?

    I’m not sure that will ever happen, but are newspapers ready?

  2. Tish Grier
    Tish Grier 9 years ago .Reply

    Steve,

    something interesting I’ve seen locally is that the retired folks, many of whom were professors, have computers, and have been politically active, do most of their news reading online. When they have print, it’s like something they’re just used to having or, as in the case of the Daily Hampshire Gazette, grants you access to their online product (that you have to pay for anyway.)

    And, don’t forget, in a few years Gen X will be 45 (and older), and they’re going to bring their online habits with them. :-)

    If newspapers don’t keep up, they’ll lose readership to burgeoning hyperlocal sites, which just get folded in with people’s everyday online media consumption (if they’re using RSS readers.)

    Just a thought.

  3. Engago Team
    Engago Team 9 years ago .Reply

    Once mobile phones have roll out screens at affordable prices, people will read on their mobile phones.
    http://www.teleread.org/blog/2005/09/01/roll-out-screen-used-in-actual-e-reader/
    Nokia is testing: http://tinyurl.com/4ezcba

    Then printed news papers are history ast hese roll out screens bring compactness of a mobile phone and large screen. All very convenient.

  4. Barry Friedman
    Barry Friedman 9 years ago .Reply

    Steve: I tend to be an optimist, but I can’t read this post without thinking of what it would take to convert my 80-year-old dad to digital. He spends several hours every day on the couch reading the Atlanta Journal Constitution and working the crossword puzzle. He has a computer that he never uses because — well, it’s just not as comfortable as the couch and it’s unfamiliar. (Computer = expensive AOL e-mail reader for my mom.) He might very reluctantly make the digital switch if he could get the paper delivered to a flexible, large-screen e-ink reader — as long as he can fold it and continue working his crossword puzzle with a stylus. So when’s that coming?

  5. Cynthia McCune
    Cynthia McCune 9 years ago .Reply

    I think you’re right on target. Barry’s 80-year-old father may not make the transition, but I bet a lot of 50+ folks like me will.

    Of course, I’m a J-prof and a blogger, so I may not be typical. As much as I love my newspapers — and I do — I hate watching them shrink. It’s like watching a dear friend wither and die of cancer. When it’s time to renew, I’m dropping the skinniest one.

  6. DC Stultz
    DC Stultz 9 years ago .Reply

    Steve: I am a geezer (will be 69 next month) with one foot in the habit of a daily newspaper read and one foot in the online world. I subscribe to the St Pete Times, but with the cutbacks, it barely is large enough now to provide cover for my wife’s two macaw cages. I would probably drop the subscription if it weren’t for the bird’s needs.

    My only other alternative would be the Tampa Tribune and their redesign a week ago is a disaster!

    Both papers raised their prices just before the did their redesigns — so we pay more for less.

    I’ve been a computer programmer for 40+ years and on the internet since ’94. I routinely get a lot of news off the net. For breaking news it is the best. For local news and features, you just can’t beat a newspaper. (or at least that’s the way I think it should be — that’s not the way it is becoming)

    If you take out the ad inserts in a Sunday newspaper, there isn’t much left. Sad, ain’t it?

  7. Ronni Bennett
    Ronni Bennett 9 years ago .Reply

    Engago Team’s prediction about reading on cell phones notwithstanding (even with that roll-out screen), not many 40-plus people are going to be doing that, ever.

    It’s astonishing how, within days of one’s 40th birthday, print – online and hard copy – suddenly becomes fuzzy. At least online, most text size can be increased easily.

    Although the 65-plus age group is the fastest-growing online cohort, some 70- and 80-somethings will never make the transition to electronic news. But 40-somethings and younger have been using computers most of their lives now, so growth is not a problem.

    What IS a problem (and probably not just for elders) are the animated ads next to online news stories. It’s really painful to have something flickering to the left or right of the story while you’re trying to get the facts. Just as bad are those #$%^& advertising and survey pop-ups that cover exactly the words you’re reading and do their best to hide the close button. I’ve removed newspapers from my daily reading link list when it’s happened too often, never to return to those newspapers.

    Although I haven’t bought a print newspaper in probably ten years, I do miss sitting on the sofa or in a comfortable chair, like Barry’s father, and sitting at the desk or with the laptop on my lap just isn’t the same. But I do it because of the joy of having just about every newspaper in the world at my fingertips.

    I must mention that there is a whiff in this story and the comments that anyone older than 50 is a computer/internet naif. It just ain’t so. Millions of us are online and the thousands of elders who read my blog are quite comfortable online.

    What’s amazed me about some that I’ve helped get started blogging is that at first, they hardly know what html means but within a few weeks, they are emailing asking about an intricacy of css. Elders learn fast and they’re loving it online, reading and creating their own websites.

    Oh, one more thing: how about a little respect: “geezers” indeed. “Old” or “elder” will do nicely, please.

  8. […] Prediction: How geezers will adapt to web, mobile for news. The short version of Steve Outing’s post: lower-quality, flashier-designed newspapers will turn off older readers and turn them to the web and mobile sources of serious news. A thought: this is a conundrum I hadn’t thought about — the core readership is the older set, while newspapers are reinventing for younger readers. […]

  9. Steve Klein
    Steve Klein 9 years ago .Reply

    I don’t fully agree with your premise.
    Newspapers have probably NEVER provided the depth of information (isn’t that part of quality?) readers/citizens have required. Part of that is a result of physical limitations. Part of that is their role as gatekeeper. Part of that is just poor news judgment. Part of that is their roles as community servant.
    I have never been as well informed as I am since browsers. I am now able to be as well informed as I CHOOSE TO BE.
    Newspapers are and have always been a limited channel. And they are getting narrower and narrower for the reasons you mention.

  10. Steve Outing
    Steve Outing 9 years ago .Reply

    I’ve received a couple objections to my somewhat flip use of “geezers” in this bog item. Well, since I’m 51 myself and now officially a geezer (confession: I actually got an AARP card so I could get the discounts), I feel that it’s OK and not “disrespectful” (as one correspondent suggested) to use the term. It’s used in self-deprecating humor. If I was in my 20s or 30s, then you could probably criticize me and I’d deserve it. :)

  11. Ydobon
    Ydobon 9 years ago .Reply

    08, Ronni Bennett wrote, “What IS a problem (and probably not just for elders) are the animated ads next to online news stories. It’s really painful to have something flickering to the left or right of the story while you’re trying to get the facts. Just as bad are those #$%^& advertising and survey pop-ups that cover exactly the words you’re reading and do their best to hide the close button.

    There are a number of techniques for eliminating annoying ads, especially in FireFox. Pop-up blockers, ad blockers, NoScript, freezing gif animations, even completely blocking the worst ad servers.

  12. Carol Anne
    Carol Anne 9 years ago .Reply

    How to ban pop-up ads easily? Download Google’s tool-bar and set up that option.

    I’m 63 and read the Seattle Times every day. I also spend far too much time surfing the web, mostly news-related material. (And LolCats.) I carry the paper in my daypack and read it in the park at lunch–hard to do with a PC. As for reading on itty-bitty screens, no way!

  13. K. Charles
    K. Charles 9 years ago .Reply

    As a geezer (54), I love getting more out-of-town stuff from the ‘net: Wash Post, LA Times, NY Times for national news and opinion, plus local news from places I like.

    Pitfalls:
    – re: “need to put most of their resources into improving digital news delivery and innovating further there…”
    But digital news is not paying for itself. It remains uncertain whether it ever will. Local advertisers don’t care about national readers; national advertisers mostly don’t want to screw with local newspapers or sites. Where’s the money to pay reporters and photographers and designers coming from?

    – For my geezer tastes, too many sites load up their sites with too much stuff. Videos? Don’t want to wait for the balky download, and I have a nice TV, thanks. Slide shows are nice, but don’t make me sort through 63 slow-loading images.

    – Disagree with Mr. Klein above. Every time I compare the print version of the local big daily (Miami Herald) with their site, I find lots of stories I didn’t see online (they may have been there but don’t make it a treasure hunt). The St. Pete Times site had a fine feature that showed you the hed for every story in paper, quick and convenient. Except its been purged in a “redesign.” When you don’t see paper, you don’t know what you’re not seeing.

    – Reading on mobile device? Maybe for the non-geezers. Not for me, nor for most I know.

  14. […] Here’s a link to a delightful blog post that asks and answers this question: How will geezers adapt to “web mobile for news.” Enjoy. […]

  15. […] Steve Outing: Give it time and The Great Migration of a sacred demographic will lead Old People right into our hands. […]

  16. lee anderson
    lee anderson 9 years ago .Reply

    Web operations at newspapers aren’t paying for themselves — much less showing profits — even with full-time regular print staffers & shooters & designers providing all the content. How can Web news sites possibly continue if they abandon the print newspaper but have to hire staff to write the stories the techies shovel onto the site? Maybe newspaper web sites will become aggregators of others’ work instead of content creators, but at some point someone’s got to hire reporters and editors and pay them. At my paper, there is virtually no cross-readership among Web and newspaper subscribers, and less than 25 percent of the Web readers start from the main page. I’m sorry, but I can’t find the logic to support the author’s arguments.

  17. John Hopkins
    John Hopkins 9 years ago .Reply

    When those electronic news sites start investing in newsgathering, maybe they’ll get this geezer’s eyeballs. So far, no city I know of, other than Madison, Wisc., has an Internet news site that does more than retread — or brief in advance of publication — what some print product’s staff has created.

  18. Eugene
    Eugene 9 years ago .Reply

    Now everyone is talking about the American economy and eclections, nice to read something different. Eugene

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