newspaper audience

I recently conducted an independent research for a local English newspaper.
The survey was standard.
We only controlled for age and gender.
For age, mainly because call companies tend to conduct phone interviews during their work hours – 8am to 5pm – and get the retired and the housewives as main respondents.
That wouldn’t have sufficed.

Without boring you too much on the research’s technicality, I’ll just say that the Maltese population was well represented in terms of age, gender, and location.
The remaining demographics also fitted well with those of the general population.

By the way, Malta is a great place to do research for an under- or a post-graduate degree.
The population is accessible, small in size, and English-speaking – three great advantages for research enthusiasts.
And then there’s the sun and beaches!

The findings from my study, which aimed at leveraging readership preference (and identifying reader profile), were quite amusing though.
And by “amusing”, read “disturbing”.
By “disturbing”, read “global phenomenon”.
My conclusion fitted in one-verbed sentence (or it was more like a bold advice): go tabloid!

Readers in general (as a trend, but not inclusive of all respondents):

  1. don’t care about international politics
  2. don’t care about international economy
  3. don’t care about current international events and affairs
  4. don’t care about editorial and letters to the editor
  5. want to read more local gossip
  6. want to read more about celebrities and international gossip
  7. want to read more about local social events
  8. want to read more about personal stories
  9. want more games, crossword puzzles and the like

This, however, is not a local occurrence but a global one, as I’m saying (read here, this book, and several articles on the London Times for starters. For the last one you’ll need to pay for subscription to access archive.)

What with its shrinking advertising and readers’ migration to online, the printed newspapers look like an ailing octopus (I haven’t seen one but sounds good for a newspaper – for the ink and the way it spreads its tentacles) and experts don’t know what diagnose to give it yet.

What strikes me at this point is, not whether a cephalopod mollusk will die of a bad cold, but whether people’s demands for news have changed and what really matters to them.
For that matter, a lot of other serious paper-and-ink-based stuff may as well slit its wrists.
Like Shakespeare literature, Renaissance paintings and musc.
Welcome all things digital – from 3D to incorporating augmented reality onto everything.

Why is there such an interest in gossip and entertainment and colour?

I may exaggerate but I can’t help it, especially when I think of all the teenagers I speak with on a daily basis, who, by the way, hate newspapers, find them ‘old’ and ‘outdated’ and, if given the chance, would have turned them into glossy A4 gossip magazines with lots of pictures and even audio recordings (of the news items) so they don’t have to read.

Young people, specifically, don’t care who Desdemona is and what Prokofiev wrote.
Their schools stress so much on art (a term used loosely in schools) that, when you walk about schools (and I did in 60% of them in Malta) it feels like you’re in a flea market that has collided with an art gallery, at a junk store, during carnival season’s…official opening.
I feel dizzy going to my son’s school.
It’s so disorientating from all the art displays and colourful cottons and cups and stuff sticking out of papers, sprinkled with glitter, stuck on walls.
There’s so much of it that they even give me some (my son’s) to take home with me, too.
I have a pile of ‘artwork’, and so much of it already, while my son’s only been going to school one semester.
I don’t think our garage will be enough to contain all artwork by the time he moves from reception to kindergarden (in two years’ time).
I’m not against the arts.
I’m not against the fact that teachers do such a great effort in teaching our kids how to create things and enrich their imagination.
But it feels like art (again, used loosely) is the common denominator, everywhere you look around – books, toys, activities.
No wonder newspapers look boring.

Tolstoy said that man is like a fraction whose numerator is what he is and whose denominator is what he thinks of himself.
The larger the denominator, the smaller the fraction.

Put it in media terms, if we are the fraction, entertainment and arts (the loosely used term) are a huge denominator in terms of position they take in our lives and in that of our kids.
Maths, physics, plain, typed black and white words and numbers, I dare say, is a minuscule numerator (resulting in what you can read about here and here).

I’m stating findings about adults’ newspaper preferences, while referring to kids’ media environment, while referring to teenagers’ view of old and new, cool and boring media.
It is confusing.
But not so much when you realise that all these different generations meet together in the living room – where all the colour and the TV and the computers and the entertainment and the digital buzzing takes place.

Inevitably, all these generations learn about the ‘old’ stuff and the ‘new’ stuff form each other.
While teenagers find the ‘old’ stuff too ‘granny’ and ‘old school’ (all terms they have used in my focus groups), parents find ‘new’ stuff and the things their kids like, a necessity to know in order to stay close to their kids.

Moreover, parents become fascinated by the incredibly advanced toys their kids have; or by the fun and free spirited young life that’s portrayed on MTV; or by the smashing Wii game they’ve been losing on against their savvy son.
Suddenly, again, the smudgy newspaper, full of political fiascos and boring adverts, seems so dull, numb and daft.

I can’t predict about the final equation to the fraction, even if I ignore the mathematical logic of it.
I can’t say what personalities it will equate to.
I can’t tell what will become of newspapers either.
Until, perhaps, we find out what matters to generation Z (my kids’ age).

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