Everybody bemoans the absence of the “youth” audience from newspapers, radio, and TV. How, they ask, can there be any future for legacy media if young people aren’t reading, listening or watching?
One answer might be a site called TweenTribune, which should be a local news editor’s dream when it comes to reaching “tomorrow’s” news consumers. Teachers in six countries are using TweenTribune – including one who happens to teach one of the tweens living in my household.
Let’s talk about tweens for a minute. There are about 25 million of these confused and generally annoying little people in the U.S. alone. (I’ve got a lot of experience here. Two have already passed through this stage at my household. One is in the throes of Tweendom, and two more are not far behind.)
They are responsible for many things – most of which they’ll deny – but the most important of which is about $150 billion in spending. I’m talking cell phones, dresses, board shorts, sneakers, T-shirts, sneakers, gum, sweat shirts, video games, skate boards, sneakers, fast-food and ringtones. That doesn’t count the estimated $170 billion in matching expenditures by parents and relatives on things like braces, sneakers, haircuts, skateboards, text-messaging fees and music downloads.
How in the world does traditional media reach them anymore? Advertisers have been perplexed for more than a decade, since newspapers cut their comics, radio lost out to iPods and MTV’s reality got too unreal for them.
TweenTribune is the brainchild of Alan Jacobson, a newspaper designer with tweens of his own. It combines the attraction of totally interesting news (make sure you say “totally” with the right inflection) with the power of social networking on the Web. And the irony is that, even though it’s sanctioned by both parents and schools, the kids are really into it. Jacobson has pitched the idea to newspapers and TV stations as local partners, but schools are learning about it on their own and coming to him directly.
Traffic has skyrocketed, even though TweenTribune has only been around since last spring and hasn’t been actively promoted since mid-September. It’s approaching a half-million pageviews per month. Jacobson says he’s flooded with registration requests from teachers – averaging 100 per week in the past two months – and 10,000 students per month.
The concept is pretty simple. Take any oddly interesting news item – like the kid in the runaway balloon, the Octamom, Michael Jackson’s death, or the opening of a new vampire movie – and put it on a protected Web site for a school where teachers can ask kids to log in and comment on one or two stories for a Social Studies grade. The comments go “live” only when the teacher approves them. The kids get to read others’ comments as well, and the stories get ranked by the number of kids commenting on them.
The execution is a bit more complicated, but not much. Space is reserved for advertising, and teachers can print out comment reports for easy grading. So the ads appear in front of the students, teachers and, often, parents who see the grades.
Wow. This is the way local media companies ought to be thinking.