Building youth readership through digital editions

By Shirley J. Sasor

"What are you offering teachers and readers online?"

"Do you have an eEdition?"

While these questions come up whenever NIE coordinators get together, the topics of evolving technology and new ways of delivering the news to a digital generation are still scary ones for many who aren't quite sure what they should know (and don't) and what they should be doing (and aren't).

To open a dialogue on the subject, the New Jersey Newspaper in Education & Youth Readership Committee, led by Tom Engleman of the New Jersey Press Foundation and chaired by Shirley Sasor of the Hunterdon County Democrat, organized a conference, Building Youth Readership with Digital Editions.

Chris Yatchyshyn, manager of educational services for the Bucks County Courier Times and an active contributor at both New Jersey and Pennsylvania NIE meetings, took the lead in organizing and hosting the two-state Feb. 7 event at her newspaper's Fairless Hills, Pa., production facility. The Pennsylvania NIE committee, chaired by Liza Mattison, signed on to co-sponsor the event. Twenty-two people attended, including NIE coordinators, circulation managers, an editor and a publisher.

Dale Larson, publisher of the Bucks County Courier Times, welcomed participants and discussed the industry's commitment to promoting the newspaper as a trusted news source for youth.

Ed Fischer, online subscription sales manager at the Bucks County Courier Times, demonstrated that paper's eEdition. An exact replica of the printed paper, it is created using Olive software and it features the ability to download the paper in its entirety. One may also e-mail articles, search by topic and date, save selected articles to a "my favorites" section, and retrieve back issues from a two-week archive.

Ms. Yatchyshyn, whose NIE program includes 500 teachers, summarized how she gradually built an NIE program to complement the daily eEdition.

The process started with extensive in-house planning and discussion, followed by external market research about the schools she serves and the technology available to students. She shared how she benefitted from guidance of the Newspaper Association of America (NAA) Foundation, NIE conferences and resources on the list serve.

She then organized a six-month trial for teachers on her advisory board.

It became evident, she said, that the key to success would be training teachers to use eEditions, helping them practice online and creating a user-friendly online support system.

"Somebody has to own the project and force its success," said George Stevenson, circulation director at the Bucks County Courier Times. He stressed the importance of knowing your users' technological capabilities and having the necessary technological support. "Expect problems. They will happen," he said. "The use of digital editions is an evolutionary process."

NIE Coordinators Liza Mattison of The Morning Call and Antonette Bomentre-Walter of the Burlington County Times offered advice on selecting an online vendor. The three most popular vendors, said Ms. Mattison, include NewsStand, Olive Software and Tecnavia Press, Inc.

"I knew very little about eEditions before I started out," Ms. Bomentre-Walter told participants. "I learned by talking to people, asking questions, researching vendors and analyzing data." To gather data, she spoke with peers in the NIE community, co-workers and each of the vendors. Several essential things to know, she said, include whether the vendors will be readily available when needed and easy to work with; and the costs.

Jim Abbott, vice president of the Newspaper Association of America Foundation, encouraged participants to use the research and resources available at www.naafoundation.org. There's a guide to NIE programs, digital NIE programs, an ABC guide, as well as a wealth of additional material.

"E-editions are a green process, and we're living in a society that's becoming increasingly environmentally conscious," he said. "Train teachers. Get them hooked."

He also spoke about creating entry points into the newspaper for younger readers (under age 25). "We must have something on every page that appeals to young readers," he said. "Put youth back into the stories."

Abbot concluded, "Research shows that by age 13, we've made our decisions about where we're going to get our news."