The steadily greying readership of newspapers has been a cause for concern among publishers for some years. Now, in the age of great newspaper wars, dailies are even more desperate to recruit younger readers. Meanwhile, teens, who are being courted by everyone from clothing stores to credit card companies, aren’t even reading enough papers to be considered a readership group by the Canadian Newspaper Association or NADbank: neither organization keeps statistics on 13-18-year-olds. And as one retired newspaper editor says, if they’re not interested by the time they’re in their teens, they probably never will be.
One tactic to tap the market has been to hire 20-something columnists to pen their profound pensées on life, and most often, themselves. An even more aggressive approach has been to develop whole sections for teen readers, much in the way papers used to offer special “women’s” sections. So far, no paper in Canada has rivalled Ohio’s Akron Beacon Journal—with its unfortunately named Yo! Kids—which it mercifully abandoned in 1997, but The Toronto Star’s Young Street, launched the same year, came close. This often-patronizing, always-whine section was chock full of “way cool” stories about social injustice, penned by young people, but reading as if they were written for their rec-room-crusader parents. Typical stories were “Child Workers Rescued from Carpet Factories” and “A Street Lesson in Poverty: Teen Girls Spend Night Meeting the Homeless.”
By January of this year, the whiz kids at the Star realized that stories on homelessness just aren’t jiggy and created Boom!—still whiny, but this time focusing on what all teens do best: navel-gazing. Boom! runs weekly features like “Has Feminism Made Us Forget About Boys?” “Guys Feeling Dazed and Confused” and “Using the Power of the Right Shape,” and article about female body image.
As Boom! struggles with growing pains, we thought we’d speculate on what some of Canada’s other dailies may be up to in their attempts to keep up with what the kids are staying these days.
Being denied the keys to Daddy’s Mercedes on a Friday night is quite enough social injustice for readers of the National Post’s Post Secondary, thank you very much. This section will provide stories junior Posties really need, like “87% of Teen Girls Unhappy with Toenail Shape,” celebrity news and service pieces like “How to Spot a Knock-off Prada Handbag.” Once a month, readers can look forward to “Chillin’ with Conrad,” an informative column warning youngsters away from “militant homosexuals, feminists, abortionists, eco-geeks, worker radicals and social agitators.”
The Globe and Mail has never been known for cutesey section heads. Its Youth will help no-nonsense young Bay Street hopefuls prepare for the inevitable with articles like “You’re Never Too Young to Start Your RRSPs,” recreation news like “Club Link to Offer Junior Membership Rates” and help in planning their education with articles like “Study Says Community College No Substitute for University.”
The Calgary Sun’s Fresh Meat section will showcase the best of young Calgary. Not skimpy in content, it will chronicle crime in the city with its “Young Offender of the Week” profile and help teens home their consumerism with articles like “Where to Find Stereo Deals.” Of course, it will also include plenty of surveys like “Where Did You Lose it?” and service pieces on career options for those interested in those wussy lefty jobs requiring a post-secondary education.
Emulating the Ottawa Citizen’s tradition of such investigative gems as an eight-part series on the life and times of a family of robins, Cool Cats is for the teen who loves everyone, human or beast. Full colour graphics will accompany stories like “Finding a Hobby that Makes You Happy,” “Helping Fido Cope When You Go Off to School,” and “How to Turn Your Pet into a Prom Date.” The paper that brought us 188 Shania Twain stories in 1998 won’t let its young readers down, promising at least that many Britney Spears stories in 2000.