I told you before that I had been asked to do a student newspaper here in this town. The newspaper is to be, if it acquires the necessary funding, delivered free to students in the sixth form colleges and to the University. A student newspaper, made by students, for students. This has been on my mind quite a lot, and I’m very excited about the project. I hope it gets funding, but there are concerns I have.
With any form of school project, there is always the sad reality that the budget ultimately becomes minuscule and the bloated ambitions one has at the start of the project when everyone is in the phase of talking it up, have to be pared down to the limits of the budget.
The enthusiasm of staff spread like a contagion to the students involved, and then cold hard reality catch up with everyone. Instead of a full on school musical with a complete set, you have a cardboard box to stand on when you sing one solo song. In my experience, the staff first try to talk a project up, and then when funding is forwarded they have to play catch up, and manage the much lowered expectations that the funding allows for.
I spoke yesterday, despite my hang-over,with the teacher that dragged me into this when she wanted to know my thoughts about it, and it seems clear that this project will take the predictable path. There is no clear plan other than hopes and ambitions and grand schemes. “It is for you to decide,” she says. “Within reason, of course. I wouldn’t want to see a pamphlet for the BNP, would I?”
Beyond that she expressed hopes, dreams, and grand visions as she tried to enthuse me about it all. However, dreams are this ephemeral thing that you can’t really rely on as true, and therefore I must either immediately manage my own expectations of this project, and hers, and not allow either to hope that it will be the grand thing that’s hinted at. Either that, or I will have to think of a way to make the grand ambitions true, within the limits of a tiny, tiny budget.
My first concern is with the actual medium itself. Let us face it; newspapers as envisaged by the teacher is a dying media form. The printed daily press in this country are hobby projects funded by billionaires like Murdoch. The press give these billionaires a steadily diminishing platform where the prestige in being a press baron so far is what keeps these entities afloat, because circulation is tumbling.
The figures for 2012 for sales (table to the right) shows this, and the drop in circulation over the year is disastrous for some organisations. The Guardian lost 11.25 per cent, The Daily Telegraph lost 6.74 per cent, and those are the numbers that are repeated across the board in the graph to the right. It is not an isolated year either, and the numbers from earlier years are this alarming as well.
Print journalism seem to be in its last gasp before the business model collapse into either paid for content production by third parties like PR companies and corporations, or bankruptcy. So, regarding my project… If this is some sort of ambition on the part of people to get kids to read newspapers, it’s not going to work, because by our age I think that we’re pretty set in our media consumption patterns.
Sure, teens can read free magazines and newspapers, but they won’t go out of their way to get them because they won’t even think of actually going out to acquire the things. My experience, having talked to people about this, may be limited to my actual group of friends and peers, granted, but I don’t think we’re a statistical anomaly in this regard.
On this level of personal anecdotes, I try to remember the last time I bought a newspaper, or the last time any of my peers and friends bought one, and the sad thing is that the last time I bought one was when I lived back in Sweden. And then I only bought one because my father asked me to go and buy him one at the kiosk near our house there. I have never in my life bought a newspaper of my own, in order to read it myself. I get my news on my phone or computer from the feeds of news organisations. And I get it for free without having to buy anything, or without having to read any ads. Asking around among my friends, I do not think that I’m alone.
I haven’t been able to find a study about the media consumption patterns of teen millennials beyond people complaining that we don’t read newspapers or watch television, like this marketing executive that patronises some kid that actually thought about it four years ago.
The responses to the write-ups about his “report” are mostly along the lines of ‘he is fifteen, what does he know?’. Yet most of what he writes is true for me, my friends, and anybody I know even now four years later. Probably more so. I don’t read newspapers, don’t really listen to the radio, and I’m connected to the internet 24/7 with my smart-phone and iPod. I use my laptops for occasional gaming and homework and writing.
Since I’m far from unique in this respect, this of course presents a problem with my project. Am I really going to do a project in a media form that the supposed target audience doesn’t actually use? Or should I try to come up with some idea to use the nearly universal platform that ninety nine per cent of the people that should read this magazine have – the smart phones, mobile phones and iPods?
So, if I should sit down and design something that millennial teens would use, then it seems I have my work cut out for me, but it seems that the most basic lesson I can draw is to try to convince the ones that would give me money to do the project to move away from their idea of a paper magazine, and to do something digital instead.
It wouldn’t be that much of a cost saving, because what most people don’t think about is that paper is very cheap, and that is not where the costs of publishing arise. The paper of a book, for instance, only make up single digit percentages of the cost of production. Producing the container, whether it is digital or dead tree, is dirt cheap. The cost is in producing the data.
I don’t know how to do that. And what it would mean. I think that I should know if I want to convince more conservative minds than mine about what to do with this project. More knowledgeable people than me must have been down this mental path before, and maybe I’ve taken on something that’s too big?
I really, really, don’t want to just do it as I’m told, and then shrug and count the credits on my future CV. I finish what I start, and I try to do my best.