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SCOTT JAGOW: Today in Los Angeles, the federal government kicks off a series of hearings on media ownership. The FCC wants to know what people think about the current rules, like the cap on how many TV and radio stations one company can own in a single market and the ban on the same company owning a newspaper and a TV station in the same market. But I doubt this will come up: One newspaper in Tallahassee, Florida just made news with an unusual purchase.Lyn Millner reports.
LYN MILLNER: Over the summer, the Tallahassee newspaper the Democrat bought the student-run newspaper at Florida State University. Students will still write the articles and keep editorial control.
The Democrat is owned by Gannett Company. It’s reportedly the first time a major news corporation has acquired a privately-owned college newspaper. But the move may not be all that surprising.
PATRICK DORSEY: Here in Tallahassee, there are 60,000 plus college students. So, that’s a big audience.
That’s Patrick Dorsey, the Democrat’s president and publisher.
DORSEY: You have to look and say, you know, I need to provide my advertisers an opportunity to get to that audience, and we also, you know, we want to get news and information to that audience.
College students are very attractive to advertisers. They represent $182 billion in consumer spending, according to Harris Interactive. $46 billion of that is discretionary.
So, can the Democrat reach these students?
[ Asking students on campus: Excuse me, do you read the student newspaper? Never? Do you read the student newspaper? You don’t.]
It’s the first day of class at FSU. In the bookstore, there’s a long line of students waiting to pay.
[ Asking students on campus: Do you read the student newspaper? Do you read the student newspaper? Nobody reads the student newspaper. ]
But someone must be reading it. They print 25,000 copies per week. It’s all over campus. Here’s Ph.D. student Jay Snodgrass.
MILLNER: Do you think students read it?
JAY SNODGRASS: Yes. They do. Well, I assume that they read it because they carry it. I see them with it. But maybe they’re just packing.
Trying to reach college students is not a new thing for newspapers. Many news corporations have reduced rates or even made their papers available for free on college campuses. Rick Edmonds follows the industry for the Poynter Institute.
RICK EDMONDS: With college students, you presumably have the type people who are at least potential news readers. And so, try to get them started early, which is a big issue now because so many young people don’t read the newspaper.
Newspaper readership has been declining for over a decade. Edmonds says the approach of adding niche publications is relatively new.
EDMONDS: If there is a pressure on the publishers it’s to figure out either a new kind of publication or one that’s there that they can buy. Newspapers have been expanding both those ways.
At FSU’s student union building, there are several people reading the campus paper. So maybe there’s some hope.
MILLNER: Do you read the student newspaper very often?
STUDENT: Every once in a while. If I’m bored.
In Tallahassee, Florida, I’m Lyn Millner for Marketplace.