SCHEER: Getting a handle on our readers

Mark Scheer

There’s a commonly held perception — and I’m not even sure why — that newspaper readers fall into a series of categories, none of which bode well for the long-term health of the industry.

Your classic newspaper reader is often described the same way — north of 40 years old, off social media entirely or lacking in internet and computer savvy and, excuse the terminology, with fewer years ahead of them than behind them. 

We’re missing something here, I think. 

Just because you skew older doesn’t mean you should be picking out coffins.

In fact, a lot of people are living healthy and productive lives well into their 70s, 80s and even 90s. 

I recently had a conversation with an individual representing the medium of radio who said he focuses his music and programming on listeners over 50. 

He freely admits a lot of industry types view his model as the quickest path to extinction, but he knows his audience and catering to their preferences has proved lucrative for him. 

It make sense when you really think about it. Older people tend to like what they like, tend to have formed their habits and, yes, contrary to widely held opinions from the commercial analysts, still spend money consuming products. 

Just because you are over 40 doesn’t mean you stop paying attention, stop engaging in life or stop buying things you need or like. 

In fact, in many cases, the opposite is true. 

So rejoice dear readers who are middle aged and older. You still matter. 

Although I act as if I’ve already crossed over into cranky retirement guy age, I’m actually only 45. 

I am admittedly an old soul who has an affinity for tangible things, newspapers included. My vinyl record collection is extensive. While I have become more accustomed to downloading music on my smartphone and listening to it through a Bluetooth speaker, I still very much enjoy breaking out the records and the CDs when my wife and I are in a music mood or when we have company over for a holiday gathering or party. 

It may sound old-fashioned to some, but I’m guessing many of you reading this right now feel the same way. 

As an editor of two newspapers in 2019, I full understand the need to engage younger readers as often as possible. We all know how important it is to generate stories that attract people of all ages to our websites, our cell phone app and to our Facebook pages. 

At the same time, I understand that we are still too early in the game of the changing newspaper landscape to put so much attention into our online work that we disrespect the people who still enjoy reading the paper in its traditional paper form. 

The reality is, a lot of older people are our best customers. 

Our audience may be seasoned, but that doesn’t mean they still don’t have a lot of seasons ahead of them. 

Using my own father, Mel Scheer, as an example, if the Buffalo News had given up on him when he turned 40, the paper would have missed out on 40 years and counting of subscription payments and faithful support from my dad who will turn 81 this October.

In the past couple of weeks, I have spoken to many longtime subscribers of the Niagara Gazette, some of them in their 70s and 80s.

One thing was clear in every conversation: They love their newspapers. 

One Niagara Gazette reader described it to me as her “lifeline” to the outside world. 

What an honor to a part of something that someone in this universe values so much. 

Newspapers are, without a doubt, in a transition now and I do understand how there’s no stopping the march of progress. 

Our staff — even those members like me who are over 40 — have fully embraced the need to entice younger people to read what we have to offer online through our websites and our phone app. 

At the same time, we know — or at least we should know — that many of you still prefer the experience of reading an actual newspaper. 

That’s not only OK, it’s a real blessing, something newspapers of all sizes — if they handle their business properly — can build on as they continue their efforts to not only stay relevant but find a way to thrive again. 

Contact Regional News Director Mark Scheer at 282-2311, ext. 2250.