Newspapers should evolve to reflect times

If you have an 8 or 9 a.m. class, you may be familiar with the Tampa Bay Times or tbt*. The tbt* is published by the St. Petersburg Times, and it’s available to the public for free. The tbt* provides an alternative for people who wouldn’t normally pick up a newspaper. With the slow but steady decline of newspaper readership, a change might be crucial.

An article in the Washington Post cites circulation has declined 1.9 percent at 814 of the nation’s largest daily newspapers over the last six months ending March 31, compared with the same period the year before. The Internet has been instrumental in assisting that decline. Blogs and Web sites have increased in popularity, while newspaper readership has dwindled.

A CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll found that while 56 percent of the American population has no clue what a blog is, 44 percent of young adults read blogs often. Wikipedia is also another phenomenon that is growing rapidly as people contribute and edit the online, user-made encyclopedia. There is “podcasting,” too.

All three of these new media tools have had a great effect on how young adults are deciding to get their news. Twenty-four hour cable news networks such as C-SPAN and FOX News are also contributing to the decline of newspapers.

Since the Internet is what’s hot right now, newspapers are taking advantage of its ability to reach a different audience. According to The New Yorker, the Washington Post, attracted more than 8 million readers to its Web site in February despite its circulation decline. That is up from 3 million during the same month last year. The increased number of Internet traffic is equating to millions of dollars in online advertising.

So while the Internet is helping to compensate for the lack of print readers, what are newspapers trying to do to attract people to continue to read their print editions? Tbt* is a great example of taking the concept of a newspaper and gearing it toward the younger demographic.

Some might feel that tbt* is degrading. One of my professors said it’s almost as though the St. Petersburg Times is saying college students are not ready to read the “big people newspaper”, so they give us a kiddy paper for starters, which he considers an insult to college students’ intelligence.

However, tbt* is highly informative and presents news that is also published in the St. Petersburg Times; the only difference is its format. It is printed to resemble a tabloid paper, but its content is far from tabloid. If this could get the younger generation to pick up a paper, then I say let’s try it. Change is not always a bad idea.

The Economist says that in the 1960s, four out five people read a newspaper every day. Now only half do. Philip Meyer, author of The Vanishing Newspaper: Saving Journalism in the Information Age, states that if the circulation decline continues, the last newspaper reader will dispose of his or her final paper copy in April 2040. To prevent that from happening, newspapers have to change with the times. This generation is so used to bold, vibrant graphics and 60-second news bites that maybe the best thing newspapers can do is condense and colorize.

Shemir Wiles is a senior majoring in mass communications.