Catering to an Online Demographic

For the past 21 years I’ve been alive, my father’s nightly routine has never changed. Promptly returning from work around 7 o’clock, he eats his dinner before propping his slipper clad feet up on the kitchen counter with his glasses perched at the end of his nose, as he flips open the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel to read it from start to finish.

When I had been younger and still in high school with no avid interest in reading or listening to the news, he used to complain to me in more nostalgic type of tone, of the days when every body picked up a newspaper and would educate themselves about the events going on in the world. He argued reading the news from valuable news sources like the Sentinel was the only way in which he could form his own opinion about public policies and politics.


As I’ve become more invested in the news, I’ve realized the kind of people like my father who pick up a newspaper, are on the edge of extinction. In the technological savvy world of today, news, national and local, have turned away from the old generation of my father’s age and have made it their mission to catering to a much younger demographic that’s constantly online.

Snapchat, one of the most popular social media platforms for the coming of age demographic, is just one example that news organizations have been trying to plug into. Journalists have been developing and creating new ways of trying to reach an audience through Snapchat that are not necessarily interested in sitting down and reading local and national news.

A large part of the attraction of social platforms like Snapchat and Instagram are the visual elements they present. The younger demographic of students, high school and college-aged, are more interested in a viewing a picture that tells a thousands words, rather than reading an article that is a thousand words. Realizing this shift in interest, journalists like those at the New York Times have been toying with the concept of visual story telling by creating their own Snapchat and Instagram accounts.


There’s no doubt about the power visual story telling may have. One image on Instagram can produce an outpouring of emotion, create a call for action, or can give a sneak peak into the behind of the scenes of someone’s personal life.

But are these short clips and images enough for younger students to be able to gather enough information about the news? Can they derive their own informed opinion like my father who sits at the helm of the kitchen, reading the newspaper every night? The answer is no, they can’t. The appeal of Snapchat is that its instant and fast, but its still too short to affectively communicate to its audience the necessity of knowing details. Visual images though powerful, leave much to be desired in terms of the information they provide.

An image or visual story taken out of context can be problematic, especially because people tend to interpret and view things differently. A picture that’s meant to be perceived well can be taken in the wrong way without a proper explanation of what is happening. Even Snapchat stories, where people explain what might be happening during a protest can be misleading because the person taking the videos and pictures and posting them, may be only able to capture a small snippet of what’s happening, or posting what they want you to see.

One of the first Snapchat interviews by CNN shows the problems that the platform possesses for news. Though people are able to successfully ask questions to Senator Rand Paul, Paul is less likely to answer them as thoroughly or as seriously. There seems to be a sense of a lack of seriousness in the answers, as he cracks more jokes about the White House and Hilary Clinton then delving deep into real political issues concurrently going on in politics. Also if CNN hadn’t taped Paul answering questions, what’s the likelihood that people would have seen his Snapchats? How broad of an audience is Paul reaching with his replies? The answer isn’t necessarily clear. Sure, it might be innovative and instant, but the senator’s responses likely aren’t reaching an audience as broad as an article posted by the Time’s on Facebook might.


While the need to appeal to a younger and younger demographic of potential readers makes sense, journalists and reporters needs to understand what they might lose in terms of actual news when using online platforms for visual storytelling. Though the days of sitting down and reading a newspaper are soon to be long gone, there needs to be a way in which to properly communicate the full extent of the news that my father gets when he sits down to read the paper. Because even sending articles on such mediums as Facebook, doesn’t mean that enough people are going to read it, and even if they do it doesn’t mean they are going to consume the multiple sections of the news, as again my father does when he reads a paper from the front page headline to editorial note on the last page.




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