Hooking young readers to keep print media going

Warief Djajanto Basorie, Jakarta | Opinion | Sat, November 30 2013, 11:40 AM

More people are accessing online media for their news. Can the print media still survive and thrive?

Jawa Pos, the major daily in East Java, emphatically states it can. The key is to engage young readers. Azrul Ananda, president director of Jawa Pos, said this in a media-marketing forum titled “Audience engagement, challenges and opportunities for media publishers,” at the Jakarta head office of the Newspaper Publishers Association, SPS, on Oct. 25.

Azrul acknowledged much research had shown young people today had abandoned print media as against older readers.

The Surabaya-based daily, however, has successfully coopted secondary school kids. It builds activities that involve them in the activities they want. Without citing figures, Azrul claimed the paper’s circulation and revenue continued to grow.

For its innovative efforts, Jawa Pos received international recognition when the World Association of Newspapers named it the 2011 World Young Reader Newspaper of the Year.

“If all newspapers have the drive, the anxiety that newspapers will fold is irrelevant,” Azrul said.

So what has Jawa Pos done?  What is the newspaper’s drive, if not passion?

Azrul, 33, heir apparent to a multimedia enterprise that his father, Dahlan Iskan, created, was given a challenge after he returned from college in the US. Dahlan dared his son to create a page especially for young people, after Azrul said the Jawa Pos was boring.

Azrul accepted the challenge but asked that the youth content be more than one page, and that it should run daily so that its intended audience would be in contact with the paper every day. Its content would be youth-oriented topics from games to fashion.

In 2000, DetEksi, the new youth section of the Jawa Pos, was born. Azrul recruited college students on one-year stints to work on the section. Their average age is 21. Their editor is 22 years old.  They were entrusted to manage their own finances. They received a budget to stage youth events that they organized 100 percent by themselves, with no outsourcing.

The implied intent is get young people to want to buy and read the paper when it prints stories about their interests and, more importantly, about themselves.

The events the youth page team created and covered were concerts, outings, and a line of fun-gatherings. Perhaps the crowning creation came from Azrul himself: basketball. He wanted more boys and girls involved in participatory sports. The two most popular sports in Indonesia are football and badminton. Football lacked appeal among girls. Badminton had only singles and doubles matches. That left volleyball and basketball, for which schoolyards would have a playing court.

Azrul chose basketball. He started a citywide tournament in 2004. Applications from Surabaya high schools exceeded capacity.

Players had their pictures and stories in the paper. This triggered a buzz with more schools and students clamoring for space in the youth section. The buzz went viral across the country.

The phenomenal growth of interprovincial high school basketball for both boys and girls, spawned by Jawa Pos, drove the paper to build its own 5,000-seat arena in 2007. It is in walking distance from the daily’s office building, the high-rise Graha Pena in Surabaya.

The paper-sponsored basketball became a business so a separate company was made to run it. In 2008, PT DBL (Development Basketball League) Indonesia was established. By 2009, high schools in 15 provinces participated.

It has collaborated with America’s National Basketball Association (NBA), bringing more than 20 NBA players to Indonesia. Junior high schools have their own league: Junio JRBL.

A newspaper for youth is the call. One measure of that achievement is a 2011 Nielsen survey finding that 51 percent of Jawa Pos readers are below 30-years-old. This gives the paper a strong readership base for the future. A major Jakarta daily scored 36 percent in the same period.

Meanwhile, Jakarta-based teen magazine Gogirl! also proactively engages its audience. Business director Nina Moran, who started the home-grown monthly magazine in 2005 with younger sisters Anita (chief editor) and Githa (fashion and beauty editor), says Gogirl! practices “co-creation” with its readers and advertisers.

The 200-page-plus magazine is half-thick in ads. The content has strong reader participation. One major co-creation project was a 100-booth passion expo at Gandaria City mall in South Jakarta on Oct. 4-5.

Nina, 34, mapped out how to make successful campaigns that yielded responses and sales. The “how” ranges from understanding market realities to optimizing “customers’ zero moment of truth”. The latter includes helping customers “buy with their eyes” and building trust with answers and social signals.

The bottom line is that Gogirl! is priced at Rp 27,500 (Oct 2013 issue), is mostly sold off the newsstand and has a circulation of 45,000 copies on average. This is the real figure and not the claimed figure, Nina said. A 2007 issue went as high as 74,000 copies because of an enclosed legging gimmick.

For its part, The Jakarta Post has also been savvy in hooking new young readers. Its lure is the monthly magazine Speak!, distributed for free to high schools. The only charge is the mailing.  One attraction this youth publication offers is clinics in good English writing for high school students.

Jawa Pos, Gogirl! and The Jakarta Post apparently hold the common belief that their futures as sustainable print media outlets depend on how well and how creatively they invest in young readers.

The writer teaches journalism at Dr. Soetomo Press Institute (LPDS), Jakarta.