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Don’t Read All About It: Reaching the Millennial Voter

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Among Mark Twain’s many amusing quotes about the news media of his day, there was this: “If you don’t read the newspaper, you’re uninformed. If you read the newspaper, you’re mis-informed.”

Say what you will about the news media, it’s usually the only way people are exposed to politics and political figures. Even including social media, few individuals have the motivation or ability to interact with any direct source to obtain this information.

It follows then that people who say they regularly watch, read, or listen to the news “know” more than those who don’t. People who use multiple news sources “know” more than those who use fewer sources.

The Chicago technology company Retale surveyed 1,000 Americans and the results send a chill through any of us who need to communicate with voters for a living. Nearly 30 percent of adults under 35, the “Millennial” generation, have never read a print newspaper. Ever. Just one in five had paid to read a print newspaper or digital edition online in the previous 30 days.

Millennials aren’t entirely alone in this. It turns out most people are unwilling to pay for either a print newspaper or digital newspaper access. A mere one-third of adults 55 and up and one quarter of adults ages 35-54 report paying for a newspaper in any form in the previous month. Only 20 percent of Millennials did.

Like it or not, the traditional newspaper is drifting away as a means of communication, starting with younger voters. This applies both to the news and editorial content (also called “earned media”) as well as the advertising. For those of us who don’t consider ourselves well-informed without reading a daily newspaper, it’s chilling. It also means we need to adjust our thinking about how to reach voters.

Younger voters tend to be less decided and more persuadable. This isn’t a big issue in low turnout elections, when relatively few younger people vote. But what about the upcoming presidential election? The value of newspapers in November 2016 as a vehicle to reach those under 35 will be extremely low.

I believe campaigns still need to pursue news coverage, but they need to do it as early as possible in an election cycle to have the best chance of reaching persuadable voters. Campaigns need to think about it at least six months before the election. Closer to the election, newspaper ads and earned media won’t matter much because those high information middle-aged-and-up newspaper readers will have already made up their minds.  Most campaigns could completely ditch them in the last few weeks of a campaign.

The alternative during the endgame? Think video. Local TV. YouTube. Your candidate’s website and social media channels. The biggest irony here: newspapers are increasingly turning to online radio and television channels to hold onto their audience. That next interview at your local newspaper is likely to include a podcast or streaming video chat.

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