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The Impact of Dying Newspapers on Older Readers

Where Will Seniors Get Their News?

I recently read an article in Editor & Publisher, How to Use the Web to Prevent Remaining Print Readers From Fleeing,” where Steve Outing makes some great points about what newspaper publishers can do to preserve the remaining print readers they have, particularly in regard to many publishers ignoring older audiences. While many media companies work to preserve their future with digital strategies aimed at younger audiences, they are simultaneously alienating themselves from their older (and often most loyal) readers.

He’s right. I don’t know about you, but most of the seniors I know get most of their information from the newspaper tossed in their driveway each morning. While many older generations are quickly adapting to the electronic world, they are mostly using the Internet for email, shopping, health information, and watching online videos. When it comes to their news, they still want to get it from their newspaper.

But Wait, Older People Are Getting the Hang of This Internet Stuff, Right?

It’s true, seniors are using the Internet more than ever. According to surveys through 2008 by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, larger percentages of older generations are online now than in the past, and they are doing more stuff online than before. The biggest increase in Internet use since 2005 is in the 70-75 age group. While just over one-fourth (26%) of 70-75-year-olds were online in 2005, 45% of that group is currently online now.

22% of Internet users are between the ages of 45-54, 13% are between the ages of 55-63, and 7% are between the ages of 64-72 years. Believe it or not, 4% of Internet users are 73+. While these aren’t huge percentages when you consider the entire population, it’s clear that the Web isn’t just for Generation X and Y anymore.

But What About the Rest?

Regardless of how strong the shift to digital technologies is for older generations, it’s clear that many won’t make the transition – especially when it comes to news consumption. It’s sad to think there will be large groups of Americans left without easy access to the daily news. So what can we do to ensure seniors don’t get left behind in this digital transition of newspapers?

Outing suggests that publishers need to start training older audiences on alternative formats, to ensure they’re not left behind. He also suggests an “easy transition” for seniors, providing them with a digital replica of the daily paper. This approach lessens the learning curve for seniors – a far less complicated approach than trying to explain RSS feeds or blog search engines.

I wholeheartedly support this idea. We need more efforts to ensure all citizens have access to quality journalism, regardless of the format. Simply shuttering print publications with no regard for the impact on older generations is unacceptable. We should ensure all citizens know how to find and read their news online.

Consider the approach used by television broadcasters and government agencies regarding the transition from analog to digital signals. I’m guessing most Americans know this is going on because they are constantly bombarded by public service announcements aimed at ensuring no one is left without a television signal when the transition is complete. A similar effort is needed as more and more print publications make the switch from “analog” to digital news, to ensure publishers don’t leave some of their most loyal readers behind.

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