Listening to the news haters

Admit it. You think some of the students on your campus are just too apathetic or oblivious to become consumers of your product. You’re right. And if you spend a significant amount of time trying to interest them, that’s time you could have spent far more productively serving your actual audience.

But what about the students who think they are too smart for news? For instance, when a blogger for young professionals opined this week that it’s wise to read news every day,  the first reader response I saw was:

This has to be one of the most idiotic articles I have read in the past month. … News are, first of all, digested information that is created mainly for the purpose of keeping people hooked, to make them read more news. Truly neutral and investigative journalism is in short supply. Fox news might be an obvious example of this, but it does not mean that CNN, NY Times, or any other outlet doesn’t have their own agenda. 

Can we get this news-hater into our campus media audience? Maybe. And at least we can learn something by listening for a few minutes.

Here’s the good news. Our news-hating friend does read and does have an interest in the world, as he/she goes on to explain:

If instead of watching or reading news you spend that time learning about a subject – any subject – by reading quality books, watching lectures by top scholars, or reading scientific journals you will first of all gain much better insight into a specific topic, instead of a shotgun approach to everything under the sun, and probably also learn how NOTHING is as simplistic as news make it out to be. … Besides, how often do you encounter something in the news that actually affects your life, your decisions, or your actions? I bet those situations are few and far between.

I conclude that you have students on your campus interested in things we would classify as news, but they believe they can’t get that information from you. A few ideas:

  • Pound home the message that there is no other source for the content you provide. Does your front page, home page, magazine cover, social media product, etc., boldly proclaim that it has something your audience can’t find anywhere else? And do you boldly deliver that content? Sorry, folks, but your columnist condemning National Politician X for National Policy Y isn’t unique enough. Neither is your 800-word movie review. Those pieces may be appropriate as part of your menu, but they’re not what makes you the indispensable news source for your audience.
  • Admit that all too often we fail to explain how news “actually affects your life, your decisions or your actions.” In addition to basic  reporting and “what it means to you” boxes, take advantage of the huge opportunities to connect your audience to news topics via social media. Political fights at the state or campus level? Make sure your readers know the hashtags, etc., for both sides. You have an interview with a Syrian student about the trouble back home? Include the best social media discussion sites. Ask some students on those forums why they care.
  • Foster a debate on whether “news” matters, including letters and columns from “news haters” as well as editors’ columns on “why we did that” and “why we think this matters.”
  • Get out there and hand your newspaper to students! The “too smart” faction on your campus will never, ever take one off a rack. But some of them will accept a copy when offered by a smiling human being. And if you’ve done your job right, maybe they’ll learn something.

Here’s a final bit of encouragement that you can indeed win over the news “haters.” We did a proper readership survey at my college in 2011. As I shared with my fellow advisers at the time, the first question on the survey was whether the respondent agreed that “reading the newspaper is a waste of time.” Not a particular newspaper– just “the newspaper.” A whopping 69 percent either agreed or strongly agreed that “the newspaper” was a waste of time– and that number jumped to 89 percent if you included “somewhat agreed.”

But a little later in the survey, the respondent was asked if he/she had read our campus newspaper in the last month. (We only published every three weeks at the time, and it’s worth noting that our paper had been resurrected only 18 months earlier.)  The ‘yes’ on that question was 62 percent. So even though they thought newspapers in the abstract were useless, most of them had read the previous issue of  their campus newspaper. If 62 percent of those skeptics can be converted, you probably have some untapped consumers on your campus.

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About adviserdavid

Student media director, Georgia Southern University

Posted on July 26, 2012, in Leadership, What to cover. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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