Thu, Feb 12, 2009 - Page 9 News List

When the Internet and TV take on print media, it’s a global battle

France has given teenagers a year’s free newspaper subscription to prop up a failing industry. Should other countries follow suit? And would young people welcome this?

By Lizzy Davies, Kate Connolly, Tania Branigan, EdPilkington, Ro  /  THE GUARDIAN , PARIS, BERLIN, BEIJING, NEW YORK, CARACAS AND MUMBAI

FRANCE

Roman Pimbuskiy, an 18-year-old science student at an elite secondary school, has trouble remembering the last time he read a newspaper.

“It’s mostly the Internet that I use. And sometimes TV — Euronews is good,” he said.

Roman has just missed out on the French government’s decision to give every teenager a year’s free subscription to a newspaper of their choice on their 18th birthday. The scheme — in which newspapers will cover the cost of the free copies while the government will finance the delivery — was part of a 600 million euro (US$778.5 million) project announced two weeks ago by President Nicolas Sarkozy to boost dwindling readership and lure youngsters back from the Internet.

Although widely welcomed by a beleaguered French industry, some commentators have dismissed it as a stunt that does not address the root problem: The content of French newspapers is too middle-aged to be of interest to young adults who get most of their news from Web sites such as Google News and Digg-France.com.

Vincent Crespel, a teacher at Roman’s Parisian lycee, said his pupils “might read Metro or 20Minutes on the train on the way in, so they do read print publications, but generally only the free ones.”

However, almost all his pupils had Le Monde’s Web site as one of their favorite Internet links.

“As soon as they want information in depth they go to that,” he said.

Despite their reputation as an online generation, however, there are many French teenagers who would welcome the chance to subscribe. Amelie Robin, an undergraduate in her first year of theater studies, said her favorite means of keeping up with the news was the Courrier International, a monthly French review that brings together and translates the best of the world’s press coverage.

GERMANY

About 47 percent of Germans between the ages of 14 and 19 regularly read a newspaper (compared with 72.4 percent for the whole population), according to the latest data from the Federation of German Newspaper Publishers. This is a sharp decline from 20 years ago, when the figure was about 77 percent. But, says federation spokeswoman Anja Pasquay, it compares favorably with other countries and reflects the way the German media market has diversified to include the introduction of private television and the Internet.

Contrary to popular belief, those who rely on the Web as a source of news still tend to be enthusiastic newspaper readers.

When it comes to prioritizing news sources, 18-year-olds are, statistically speaking, more likely to put the Internet at the top, followed by TV and then newspapers.

But Sarah Kunne, an 18-year-old student in Berlin, says she still prefers newspapers.

“It’s just easier than looking at a screen and is much more able to surprise me with its content than a news Web site, which often feels ‘served up,’” she says.

Her reading habit consists mainly of the weekly paper Die Zeit, a heavy dose of politics and culture, to which she subscribes at a discount rate, and Neon, a hip, reportage-heavy magazine for students, which she borrows from her elder sister.

German newspapers enjoy a reduced rate of value-added tax but not the same government support as France, and the newspaper market is seen as being much healthier for that.

“Newspaper education” is also an important part of the German school curriculum, and is sometimes introduced as early as kindergarten level. Young people are taught how to navigate their way around newspapers and often spend time producing their own or visiting newspaper offices. A recently launched newspaper project called Tom’s Book, which is touring the country in an attempt to highlight the importance of newspapers, has proved to be hugely popular.

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