Young newspaper readers

- who are they and what do they want?

Field study of the newspaper reading 12 to 19-year-olds’ attitudes to the media – English summary

The young people are digital natives that do not read the newspaper – myth or truth?

To TNS Gallup approx 50% of the 12 to 19-year-olds’ claims that they have spent time reading the newspaper ”yesterday”. Considering the number of alternative digital news sources the number seems to be surprisingly high to the extent that we had to dig into the background more thoroughly. Only very few newspapers make an effort to reach the target group. Retirement issues sell more newspapers than college stories among newspaper readers. Discrepancy makes you curious which is exactly the personal motive to look into the phenomenon.

In December 2010 we carried through a webbased screening of the 12 to 19-year-olds’ newspaper reading habits with the intention to put together 11 focus groups of newspaper reading 12 to 19 years olds. Armed with a lot of scissors, glue, wall sheets, and newspapers we interviewed 65 young respondents all over the country. During the interview we asked them to cut out and glue up the most interesting printed units on wall sheets. The wall sheets should represent ideal newspaper pages – the way they wanted them to be.

We found out that the newspaper reading 12 to 19-year-olds are very particular readers who value the credibility of the newspaper very high. Their attitudes to the media are critical and differentiated. Even though the digital news platforms are an integrated part of the everyday life of young people we look upon their choice of the newspaper as a statement that there is still a young audience in favour of print.

At the same time it was clear – which should be no surprise – that the young people are not just young. Our research is not comprehensive enough to define actual reader segments or archtypes but we have found the outline of some basic reader profiles in the age group. Without making any predictions in the fields of business the reading potential seems to be latent.

Our results, method, and recommendations for the dailies who contemplate addressing the target group, are published summarily in Danish in the report. Though it seems a paradox we have chosen to publish all our material on web. Our priorities have been like that because our primary research material, the wall sheets, are being reproduced in the best way online. On we have published all the wall sheets with the possibility for the users to select according to age, sex, and geography. Differentiated figures and statistics are also accessible. Moreover, on our homepage we present what belongs to the classical report: Thorough documention for the method, results, interpretations, enclosures, recommendations, and references to related projects.

Having been inspired by the Swedish newspaper organization, Tidningsutgiverna, we have developed a do-it-yourself workshop for dailies who want to develop editorial products for the target group.


Young newspaper readers exist and filter out more slowly than old people

Despite the fact that the number of news on the digital platforms boom astonishingly, young 12 to 19-year-olds maintain that ”they spent as least 5 minutes reading the newspapers yesterday”. Nationally the group is declining but compared to older reading groups not by far as quickly. The figures in themselves present a problem to the trade story that young media consumers can only be reached on digital platforms.

Critical but differentiated attitudes to the newspaper

The respondents agreed that the newspaper is not made for children and young people. Despite this attitude the focus groups presented us to critical as well as differentiated attitudes towards the newspaper as a media. The more significant attitudes we have listed summarily in the following edited statements: The newspaper is a:


  • Objective media with a high credibility
  • Entertaining media (names and gossip, sports, Sudoku, cartoons)
  • Cozy media because it is analog
  • Useable service media (cinema ads, weather etc.)


  • A media mainly addressed to old people regarding issues and angles
  • A boring media as form is concerned
  • A far too expensive media
  • Very unhandy media because the paper is too thin, the size too big, and because the pages fall apart

I, me, we, and the world

Working on the material from the focus groups two reader profiles appeared – in the extreme form each other’s contrast. At one end we find the reader mostly occupied with topics very close to his or her private interest sphere. At the other end of the scale we find the reader mostly occupied with issues far away from his or her private sphere: We have characterized the two types of readers as:

The I-reader

– goes by the close issues. It might be close as in geographical closeness but also close understood in the sense of relevance to the individual here and now. Service stuff, gossip and partly sports are attractive issues. The I-reader is overrepresented in the provinces but can be found everywhere.

The we-reader

– most commonly lives in and around the big cities. The we-reader is interested in home, society, and politics and resembles the classical omnibus-reader.

Reading habits characterized by web as well as print

We find two characteristic ways to decode the newspaper between the two reading profiles. One way is very traditional and shows a thorough understanding of the conventions and means of the printed media. The other way starts from an intuitive digital media understanding.

The wish for demographical closeness assembles the target group

Both reading profiles want to be talked to in a loyal way in the columns. In addition to the wide unity among the respondents that the newspaper is not their media, it is the general opinion that the newspapers via angles and language stigmatize young people as a community and treat children as objects. The message from the respondents has been clear explicitly as well as implicitly: We want to read the newspapers more if it is targeted to us and if it is about us. In our interpretation of the results of the survey we have expressed it as being a demographical closeness criteria.

Citizens-to-be with a combined need for entertainment and information

With the wall sheets as the primary source of interpretation we found that the areas home, society, and politics together are top scorers. This way we conclude that the  newspaper reading young people are citizens-to-be with the classical implications it has on their media consumption. If we compare the wall sheets across demography and combine the selected cuts in service and entertainment areas we get – in addition – a picture of a practically oriented target group that very much likes to be entertained.

Pictures are the primary reading entrance

Across demography the principal meaning of the pictures regarding the reading was very clear to us. Not only intuitively but also on a reflective level the respondents were critical of the pictures in the newspaper. On top of famous people and pictures of young people in general the reporting picture was pointed out as being especially attractive.

Paper is cozy but the format unpractical and expensive

While many of the respondents mentioned newspaper reading as being a cosy and relaxing activity because of the abscence of a screen they agreed that the newspaper is difficult to handle physically. Even the tabloid format is a challenge to the young readers physically and is conceived as being ”too big”. The size and the general lack of stapling was the reason to big irritation. All agreed that paid newspapers were too expensive.

Table of contents in printed report

  1. Introduction
  2. Conclusions
  3. Newspaper reading young people
  4. Who are they?
  5. What do they want?
  6. And how do they want it?
  7. Characteristical wall sheets
  8. Method
  9. Recommendations
  10. Swedish frame of reference


Thank you for economic support and practical help from:

Dagspressens Fond – is founded in 1977 and supports a number of purposes for a mutual benefit for the Danish newspapers.

Aarhuus Stiftstidendes Fond -The primary purpose is to advance the independent liberal press in Denmark.

/ritzau/ - Ritzau is a credible and fast news agency that sells targeted news products and media services to media houses, companies, and organizations.

WEBPOL - a Danish analysis agency that has carried through professionel online market analyses in Denmark since 2001.

Thank you for the competent advice to our advisory board:

  • Managing Director Mette Davidsen-Nielsen, Information
  • Festival Editor Kirstine Vinderskov, Producentforeningen
  • Senior Consultant Adam Rue, Danske Dagblades Forening
  • Chief Editor Lars Vesterløkke, Ritzau
  • Sales- and Marketing Manager Poul Skøtt, Politiken
  • Chief Editor Hans Petersen, Århus Stiftstidende