Millennials and Print Newspapers: A Surprising Story

May 2, 2012

Reports on the media habits of Millennials, those "digital natives", have given some the impression that young people never read newspapers. However, survey evidence stubbornly insists that they do.

For instance, the recent Pew State of the News Media study notes that 23% of people aged 18-24 reported reading a newspaper yesterday. As a Millennial myself, I was slightly skeptical. Were these 18-24 year olds just confused about what a newspaper is? Further evidence confirms the existence of young people looking to print: The New York Times reports that 10% of its hard copy subscribers are aged 18-24, which is on par with the 9% of this age cohort who subscribe digitally.

NPR Research has access to GfK MRI's nationwide data, collected through extensive in-person surveys, which indicates that newspaper readership is even more widespread among young adults than these statistics suggest. I looked up the exact question respondents were asked in this survey so I could be sure that Millennials were not mistaking "noticing a pile of newspapers at Starbucks" for "reading a newspaper." It turns out that survey respondents were asked to cite newspapers they had read or looked into, on printed paper. They were specifically reminded that neither electronic copies nor the newspaper's website count as printed paper. Neither does a tablet or mobile device. Still, most Millennials insist that they read newspapers!

Source: GfK MRI Doublebase 2011

Millennials keep pace with total US adults until it comes to comparing the number of heavy readers. Less than a quarter of Millennials (22%) are reading newspapers at least every other day, compared to 40% of adults overall. However 52% of them are getting their hands (and eyes) on a newspaper at least once a month and up to fourteen times a month.

Heavy newspaper readers (groups I and II) are 75% more likely than light/non readers (groups IV and V) to hold a graduate degree. Heavy readers are also more than twice as likely to be considered "Influentials," meaning people who participate in three or more public engagement activities every year (such as writing a letter to an elected official, running for public office, or attending a public meeting). These young adults are keyed into civic life and, in a crowded media marketplace, apparently prioritize carving out time to read a print newspaper.

As we have seen in the video, "Baby Thinks Magazine Is a Broken iPad," the next generation may need some instruction in print media appreciation. However, evidence points to the fact that, while they may prefer their digital devices, most Millennials know how to turn a physical printed page, and I will raise my morning coffee and paper to that.

Katy Pape is an intern with Audience Insight & Research.

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