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There is hope for the printed page, kind of

This week when I was out giving my career presentation two things occurred that gave me hope for the printed page. Kind of.

I started the presentations by trying to engage the kids and ask whether they read the paper. I was surprised, no seriously caught off guard by the quantity of hands that shot up. I’d say 80 percent of the high school students had their hands up. I was unsurprised to learn many read the sports section first (and several exclusively). Nearly all said they read the local section, at least skimmed it. I’d guess that most skim most of the paper. But I was pretty surprised to learn they don’t read our entertainment and life sections at all. Not one of them admitted to reading TGIF, lots didn’t seem to know it existed. And this was a place that really is on the edge of our coverage area (i.e. not a mainstay of our beats/circulation) but where there is no other local paper. But still, I was a bit caught off when so many kids had their hands up.

The second thing that surprised me was from the substitute teacher who was proctoring in the room where I happened to be. I got there with about five minutes to spare before kids arrived. So we were talking about the paper. He was asking about news stories including the recent election, about our recent redesign, etc. He told me he reads the paper COVER to COVER every day. EVERY SINGLE DAY. He said he spends at least an hour and a half DAILY. Then, when he’s done, his wife reads it. And he moves on to do the same with the Indy Star, to which he also subscribes.

I was also shocked by this. I didn’t know people like that existed. Or that they still existed. No, that they ever existed. I mean, think about that. Two hours a day for him is not uncommon with the J&C. Then he reads the Star as well. He said, he’s retired, what else does he have to do? OK, I’m still kind of amazed these people exist.

Sadly, we didn’t get to talk about the Web site and more in-depth, because the kids started trickling in. But it was an interesting and eye-opening experience for me. As much emphasis as we put on the Web. How many people go through the Web site every day and read every single page? I don’t even think that is physically possible. Our links are ever-changing, our updates stale before they’d get back to square one. Plus all the evergreen databases and stories.

How can we get those kids to be as loyal as that retired engineer, who took up subbing just to fill the time? Whether they’re loyal to our print product or our Web site or our podcast or whatever. How do we continue to keep their attention and their enthusiasm for our product? I know this is an old argument, but it’s been on my mind since that day.

(BTW: The career presentation went so-so. The TV chick presenting after me had a game and free T-shirts for winners. Though I did laugh when she had to give them away to kids who couldn’t play along and name four anchors or four reporters at the station. Not that they could name four bylines in my paper. The difference is, we’d never be so pompous as to ask.)

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