Last week a reporter from Argentina’s Clarin asked me what I thought about the French government’s plan to spend $22.5 million over three years to give 18-24 year-olds a free, yearlong subscription to a newspaper of their choice. The biggest problem of many that I see with this plan is that it doesn’t address the true issue with news consumption among young people. Here’s what I’d do with $22.5 million to invest in the future of news — sponsor a grant competition for people 18-24 to conceptualize and create solutions to their peer’s lack of interest in current affairs.
In France, according to The New York Times, only 10 percent of those aged 15 to 24 read a paid-for newspaper daily in 2007, down from 20 percent a decade earlier. But that’s a meaningless statistic. How many young people read ANY newspaper? How many are getting news for free… on TV… from freely distributed papers… on the Internet … at libraries? It is obvious that nobody is going to pay for something they can get for free.
In the U.S., according to Pew, a third of people 18-24 got NO news from ANY source yesterday. This is not a problem that free newspapers would solve.
The decline in newspaper readership pre-dates the current economic slump. Newspaper readership is not declining because people can’t afford them.
Free content on the Internet may be causing newspaper declines, but young people have become even more disinterested in news since the advent of online news. The percentage of 18-24 year-olds who get no news has INCREASED 9 points in the last 10 years — faster than any other age group.
The problem is so much bigger than newspapers. Young people have either a dangerous lack of interest in public affairs or are getting information about the world around them via some channel that they do not identify as “news.”
Ironically, the people for whom this is going to be the biggest problem are the 18-24 year olds. They are the ones who need to step up and propose solutions to the problems of their peer group. So why not hand out a couple million dollars in grants every year to recent college grads who want to try to solve the problem? And not the problem of declining newspaper readership, but the problem of the declining news readership in any medium.