The French Example: Free Newspapers for Young People Jeanne

-Emmanuelle Hutin, Ouest France, co-chair of the French Presidential Youth-Press Commission, France

There has been a lot of debate about the French government’s decision to give free, one-day-a-week newspaper subscriptions to every 18- to 24-year old in the country as a way to encourage newspaper reading and civic participation. But those who have dismissed the idea ought to consider that Ouest France and 40 other regional newspapers have been experimenting with the concept since 2006, and Ms Hutin described the project as a success.

It’s a tremendous opportunity, though she admits that merely giving them away is not enough. “Is it a good idea? Yes, as long as we don’t disappoint the young and succeed in interesting them in the news, with relevant content and approaches, by investing in other platforms and by strengthening links with them,” she says. “It’s a fantastic opportunity, but a huge challenge.”

At Ouest France, the largest general interest newspaper in France, the number of regular readers among 18- to 24-year olds increased by 22,000 in 3 years, with 12 percent re-subscribing after their free subscriptions ended. And 65 percent of the young subscribers continue to read Ouest France at least once a week after their subscriptions end. But it took work, says Ms Hutin, and more needs to be done.

The newspapers had to devise special content for the day it distributed the free subscriptions – in the case of Ouest France, it was a “Special Future” recruitment section. A marketing campaign using new media has to be created — traditional marketing didn’t really work. And a strategy to move the free subscribers to paid subscriptions had to be planned.

In Ouest France’s case, a two-day-a-week paid subscription was offered after the one-day-a-week free subscription expired.

“What do the publishers want? They want to thwart the large-scale flight of young readers,” says Ms Hutin. “The situation in France is alarming: from one generation to the next, young people are less likely to read newspapers. It is vital to reverse this trend.”

Take Young People Seriously
Joanna Parczyńska, Director of Free Press Division, Agora, and Waldemar Paś, Editor in Chief, Metro, Poland When Metro changed its editorial strategy a year ago to give priority to the needs, aspirations and problems of young people, it launched an enormous study to better understand its audience. That study not only provided marketing information, but also produced content for the newspaper.

“We analysed behaviour, but also gathered information about their aspirations and problems,” says Ms Parczynska. That produced a series of debates in the pages of Metro, and helped launch a series of unique panel discussion about the future of Poland. The roundtable discussions were particularly appropriate for Poland, since they reflected the roundtable talks of 1989 that ended communism, says Mr Pas.

The disussions, both in the seminars and in the newspaper itself, encouraged readers to share their opinions, and the outcomes – support for new infrastructure, development, and reform of the education system – were proposed to the government. “We believe young people will read newspapers. The key is to treat them seriously,” says Ms Parczynska. She must be right: with 1.3 millon readers, Metro is Poland’s third largest newspaper.

Creating News Sites for Young People
Michael Smith, Executive Director, Media Management Center, USA Today’s newspaper web sites are great for news junkies, but they turn off teen-agers. They’re too dense, there are too many choices, there is no clear hierarchy, they assume the reader has a familiarity with the news and with newspaper jargon, according to research carried out by the Media Management Center at Northwestern University for the Newspaper Association of America. “We need to create special websites for young people, not just take our main websites and make them less complicated, because our main sites attract people interested in news,” said Mr Smith. “If you are a news consumer, you can find it satisfying. If you’re a teen-ager who just wants to know what’s going on today, it’s overwhelming.”

The study suggested ways to create news websites to attract teens. Mr Smith said the future depends on doing so. “The role of the newspaper is to get young people interested in news. Because if they develop an interest, they get the habit. There are democratic imperatives in this going forward.”

While complicated websites overwhelm teens, becoming too simple will bore them. Mr Smith presented ten tips for developing web sites for teens. Here are some of them: 
 Don’t overload them. 
 Entice them to keep reading. 
 Summarize stories on the home page. 
 Rank stories by importance in a clear hierarchy. 
 Beware of too much scrolling and clicking. The study results are available here

What Can Traditional Media Learn from Social Media
Anna Holmquist, Chief Editor, and Ylva Hvarfner, Managing Director,, Sweden Perhaps nothing defines the differences between social media and traditional media as their attitudes toward the separation of advertising and editorial. Where traditional media maintains credibility by keeping a clear wall between the two, their relative positions in social media is not so defined.

Ms Holmquist and Ms Hvarfner believe some of the practices of social media can be beneficial for traditional media – including breaking down the wall between advertising and editorial. While some of his advice is controversial, some of it is not. Familjeliv, owned by the Stampen Group, is Sweden’s largest family social networking site, reaching half of all Swedish women 25- to 35-years olds every month. Some advice, based on the experiences at Familjeliv: Involve your user. “The younger generation wants to integrate! Sometimes they want to read editorial material, but very often they want to write themselves, comment, vote and give their opinion! Open up channels to involve your users.” Involve customers in business development. “Users are our most important asset. They also feel a great commitment to the site and many even think that it is ”their” site.

When we develop new products and services it is obvious for us to involve users in the process.” Tear down the walls between sales and editorial. At Familjeliv, advertisers act as experts – for example, Nestlé can provide advice about babyfood, Pampers about diapers. The site sells sponsorship and advertising packages that includes not only traditional advertising but advertiser involvement in advertorials, customer surveys, expert forums and more.

Remaking NIE For An Online World Angelo Melone, Deputy Editor, of La Repubblica, Italy For the past nine years, the Italian daily La Repubblica not only provided copies of the newspaper to schools, but also provided an on-line system that allowed classes and teachers to create and print their own school newspapers. The project ultimately involved nearly 1.5 million young people and 8,500 schools. It wasn’t enough. “In nine years, many things changed in the relationship between young people and the means for receiving information, and consequently in the relationship with their computer,” says Mr Melone. So the newspaper completely transferred the project to the internet, allowing young people to create their own personal websites, under the supervision of their teachers. But even that wasn’t enough. The project has subsequently pulled together all the online creations into a national website, “a site of factual information written directly by the young people and, taken as a whole, a community of students who confront each other over topical themes, culture and entertainment, directly stimulated by items appearing in Repubblica.” To help that stimulation, Repubblica supplies them with free online subscription to the newspaper. The project was an immediate hit – 850,000 students from 5,300 schools signed up in the first three months. “We feel we have made it possible for students to create their own workgroups, to get in touch with the world of journalists and to see their articles published,” says Mr Melone. “And it is a way for us to encourage young people to get into the habit of reading newspapers. It has also benefited Repubblica, which has witnessed an increase in the number of its young readers. Another positive aspect is that the paper has willingly felt obliged to publish news originating with them.” Don’t Underestimate Young People lla Appelsin, Deputy Editor, Ilta-Sanomat, Finland The Finnish regional daily Ilta-Sanomat didn’t have a reputation for being involved in education, and it wanted to change that. The election of Barack Obama as the first black US president provided the opportunity. After consultation with area schools, the newspaper created a special 16-page supplement about Barack Obama’s inauguration for 12- to 19-year old students. The supplement mostly used stories that had appeared in the main paper, but included provocative questions about what the election meant for Finland and the world. “We wanted to challenge youngsters to think themselves. We wanted to bring Obama’s world so close that youngsters could even identify themselves in it,” says Ms Appelsin. The newspaper printed 130,000 copies, inserted them in daily newspapers and sent them to the schools during the first week of February, which was Newspaper Week in Finnish Schools. The supplement included questions on the roots of racial discrimination and encouraged students to talk about the impact of the election, not only in the United States, but in Finland and world-wide. It asked students to analyse Obama’s inauguration speech. Among the questions: “In which European country could a non-white person be elected as president or prime minister? Is it possible in Finland?” Ms Appelsin provided advice for newspapers considering similar projects. Among her suggestions: “Don’t underestimate young people. If it’s big news, they are interested in it.” How to make the most of our latest free serialized story Cathy Sewell, author of serialized stories for newspapers, USA To commemorate International Literacy Day in September every year, the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers offers Ms Sewell’s serialized stories for children to newspapers for publication worldwide. Ms Sewell offered advice on how to use the stories. “Part of the value of serialized stories is to introduce news readers, or hesitant readers, to look through other parts of the newspaper,” she says. “It directs the reader to use other parts of the newspaper as a resource.”

The story, which can be read and downloaded here, is accompanied by comprehension questions, writing exercises, science facts, and exercises that teach children about newspaper journalism. Newspapers in 25 countries, with a combined 4 million circulation, used the story last year, with a wide variety of promotions, support and sponsorships. The story has eight chapters and the first one can be used at any time before 31 December.

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One Comment on “The French Example: Free Newspapers for Young People Jeanne”

  1. jean Says:

    Interesting. As a donor to the “Newspapers in the Classroom” program, I raised holy h*ll this last two years because a local major metropolitan newspaper was taking my money but eliminating the providing of newspapers in the classroom. Instead, each student was directed to the online version. Duh… And that paper wonders why its subscribers are down? I support the idea but this program leaves a sour taste in my mouth.

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