Rocky Mountain News Embraces Aging Demographic

On the average day, the third to the last page of the Rocky Mountain News' main news section is built around a piece by one of the tabloid's columnists -- usually either Mike Littwin or Bill Johnson -- or tie-ins to RockyTalk Live, an online feature moderated by Mark Wolf. On June 9, however, the space was filled by an advertising section, "Generations: Making the Most of Your Years." In addition to a box labeled "Tips for Seniors Selling Homes," items included promos for St. Andrew's Village, a senior community, and Golden Orchard, which touted "assisted living at its best," plus a house advertisement for the classified section -- a wise move, since some of the sixty-and-above crowd may not be hip to Craig's List quite yet.

No telling if this is a permanent change or a one-day move. But it resonates due in part to an insert subscribers received with one of the previous week's editions: a membership card to the American Association of Retired Persons. Apparently the folks at AARP figure that a sizable percentage of Rocky readers qualify -- and these days, that's a reasonable assumption.

According to a Carnegie Corporation report published in 2005, the average newspaper reader was then 53 -- and odds are good that the situation has only grown more extreme since. Editors and publishers have tried to lower this number for years with little success; the speed with which younger readers have drifted to the Internet for their news and information has only increased. As such, papers can either continue to fight what's probably a losing battle, or they can embrace reality and ride it for as long as possible. Hence, "Generations," not to mention a notice for "Free Hearing Exams" intended to hype a new device called Zōn. Such ads typically appear on the inside pages of dailies in fairly nondescript spots, but on June 9, the Zōn item ran in full color on the Rocky's high-profile back page.

Of course, focusing on older readers won't work over the long haul -- not unless medical science makes a Ponce de León-style breakthrough. But at present, newspapers need subscribers, period. And older readers are far preferable to none at all. -- Michael Roberts

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts