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Hungry for younger readers, newspapers should embrace their voices

Declining newspaper readership, especially among the young, is forcing editors to reexamine their focus.

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Why is it that every time an issue concerning young people arises, the newspaper op-eds commenting on those issues are almost always written by people in their 40s, 50s, or 60s? Whether it's a columnist or a parent talking about their child's college graduation or how kids in the 1950s settled disputes with their fists instead of guns, it's a tired old paradigm.

If newspapers want to reach out to younger readers, they need to include their voices.

For the past few years, many people and publishers have lamented that young adults tend not to read newspapers.

A report released July 10 by the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University showed that young people do not follow the news closely. Only 16 percent of 18- to 30-year-olds surveyed in the study said that they read a newspaper every day and 9 percent of teenagers said that they did.

Circulation is declining for most major American daily newspapers, including 8 percent for the Los Angeles Times, 6.7 percent for The Boston Globe, and 5.3 percent for the San Francisco Chronicle, according to the semiannual Audit Bureau of Circulations' Fall 2006 report.

The declines in newspaper readership are greatest among young adults and the younger segment of baby boomers, reports the Columbia Journalism Review.

Most young people tend to get their news from the Internet or television shows such as Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. I teach journalism as an adjunct professor at Arcadia University in Glenside, Pa., and Temple University in Philadelphia. Each semester, when I go around the room to see where my students get their news, hardly anyone mentions daily newspapers.

In the past few years, some newspapers have attempted to reach out to this younger group. In November 2002, The Chicago Tribune started a special tabloid geared toward younger readers called RedEye, which has 280,000 daily readers. Newsday has a weekly "New Voices" feature, which encourages college, high school, and middle school students to submit op-eds. The Boston Globe just started a teen publication called Boston Teens in Print, or TiP, which is written by teens.

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