Who Is Tomorrow's Reader?

Last Wednesday night, the Boston/New England chapter held a banquet for the Northeastern region Azbee award winners.

Because there will be a second banquet for the Northeastern region in New York City on Thursday to honor those winners, full details on regional award winners won't be on the ASBPE web site until Friday. What we can tell you that there were 2,600 entries to the competition this year, and the Northeastern region is the most competitive of the four. And we can tell you which magazines are in the running for regional awards.

We also can share the comments of our guest speaker at the banquet, journalist and Boston University professor of communication John Carroll. Carroll started off by pointing out that three of the four segments in bustines-to-business publishing -- events, custom media, and e-media -- have been thriving. Only print revenues have remained flat. We all know that, but what do we do about it?

"What you don't know is who today's students--your future audience--are," Carroll said. And as a teacher, he has come to know those future media consumers--and their media habits--intimately. He shared with the banquet audience what he saw as the four most salient characteristics of the next generation.

Characteristic #1: "They are their own producers. They have nothing against traditional media, they just have no use for you. They have 'The Daily Me' " -- news that meets their interest criteria, aggregated on personalized pages on sites like Yahoo and MSN. "Instead of radio, they have iPods. Instead of TV, they have You Tube. Instead of reading columnists or listening to commentators, they write their own blogs."

Characteristic #2: "They are fearless navigagtors of the Internet. This is coming from someone who's never used an ATM—I'm hoping to be the Cal Ripken of Luddism," he noted. They have no problem giving out personal information, such as date of birth, in order to register for a web site.

Characteristic #3: "They're virtually unconcerned about privacy issues, and they don't understand why anyone would be worried about it," said Carroll. "Their attitude is, 'They're going to get that information and you're not going to stop it.' All this leads to a particular frame of mind when you are trying to deal with these younger people They are not like you and me."

Characteristic #4: "They don't understand the value of a free press," Carroll said. "They don't get the role of a watchdog. They don't trust the press, they don't like the press, and they don't believe the press. ... They don't understand why the First Amendment is important. They don't understand why anyone would go to jail to protect a source."

The idea that young people are really media savvy isn't quite accurate, Carroll concludes. What they really are is media saturated. "They don't understand that MTV is a series of commercials interrupted by ads. They don't understand that their cell phones are running them, and not vice versa. When you ask them who's going to report on the conditions at Walter Reed Hospital, it doesn't occur to them [to think about that], because they don't know about the Walter Reed story."

How do you reach these people? "I don't have a real boffo finish," Carroll admitted. "But you have to convince them of the value of what you do ... that you're a real business, that you're important. ... They don't understand what they're going to lose if traditional media go by the boards. It doesn't strike them that it would be any big deal. You try to convince them that [professional media outlets are] essential to their well-being, to the well-being of a functioning democracy.

"It's not that they don't care, it's that they've never thought about it before," Carroll points out. But when you explain it to them, they do start to understand. "[R]e-establish a sense of importance of the news business, because I think it's disappearing. It's too easy to look at the negative and dismiss the news business overall," he said.

He added: "If it doesn't work out, there's always teaching. Give me a call."

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