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Not too long ago, television was the medium to be blamed for rotting the feeble minds of America’s young people. Now, TV stations are having a harder time kidding around. Last month, the New York Times cited a recent Pew Research Center finding that “only a third of news consumers younger than 25 watch TV news on an average day.” Bravo, television: Only 15 percent pick up a dead-tree newspaper. Not content to go the way of the newspaper, local television stations have turned to the Web to capture that coveted 21-34 demographic, creating Web sites that are less news, more booze.
In September 2006, NBC Channel 4 launched its District-based drink-and-be-seen site, the DC Scene. In July, WUSA9 got into the mix with its own Internet offering, the Gannett-affiliated Metromix. According to Greg Hudson, the 28-year-old Woodley Park resident behind DC Scene, the site appeals to area young by drawing content from other young people “who are immersed in D.C.,” says Hudson. “They have that daily knowledge of the scene. They’re more street-credible than reporters.”
But despite the use of cheap young labor, the sites have still struggled to galvanize the demo. At press time, DC Scene’s latest “Whatcha Think?” poll (“Are you looking forward to fall?”) had elicited only 16 responses, one of which was mine. (I, too, am “sick of the heat.”) Though Metromix draws several faithful commenters each day, the creepy comment troll can sometimes outweigh the fresh-faced reader—take “Sexual Harassmnt Panda,” a fictional entity whose job is “explaining sexual harassment law to children” and posts regularly on bamboo.
From one failing industry to another, we offer some tips on how best to speak down to young people:
• Talk Twitter, Flickr, or Tumblr—not VHS or Beta. Though DC Scene regularly offers up online video interviews and produced “webisodes,” some freelancers are still waiting to cut the proverbial America Online 28k modem cord. Under the headline “Online movie rentals offer great deals,” DC Scene Contributor Sery Kim lets readers in on her Netflix know-how. “Watching movies is so relaxing. I enjoy watching all types, and pretty much the only thing that has held me back from turning into a complete movie junkie is the fact that I have to go the video store to get the latest one,” writes Kim, who is not actually my grandmother. Thankfully, reads the piece’s teaser, “[t]here are plenty of options out there for renting and watching movies. The old ‘video store’ will likely soon be non-existent.”
• Spring for the business cards. In addition to temporary tattoos and stickers, DC Scene’s promotional activities include a bowling league, kickball team, and street swag giveaways like temporary tattoos and stickers. Metromix counts a giant stuffed ape, printed shot glasses, and the ubiquitous Metromix beach ball (which has graced the estimable palms of Richard Simmons) among its merch. Business cards, however, can’t always fit into the sites’ youth-friendly expense reports. “One difficulty of both [sites] is that I don’t have a business card, so if I’m at an event, it’s hard to get clearance,” says Orrin Konheim, who has written for Metromix and the DC Scene. “At Metromix, I complained about the cards, so they gave me a T-shirt. The T-shirt usually works. The problem is, if you’re reporting on something for multiple days, you can’t keep wearing that same T-shirt.”
• Don’t over-drop Gen-Y-friendly names. While a well-placed reference to Martin or Mortal Kombat may help tailor your generic scene reporting to the young professional set, cross too far into ’90s pop territory and risk revealing yourself as poseur. Take this lede from Metromix’s Michael O’Connell about a roundup of time-travel trends on television: “Much like Hootie and the Blowfish, today’s TV shows don’t believe in time.”
• Self-deprecate. One DC Scene blogger, who signs his posts as “Matthew Stabley, Music Snob,” wisely acknowledged the slim audience for his snobbery with the following introduction: “I must apologize for an unforgivable omission from my concert picks column that was a disservice to all of my loyal readers (i.e.: Mom).” In one recent Metromix “Word on the Street” slideshow, Nihal Dhillon pens this earnest intro: “It’s okay to be nosey. Who isn’t curious about what that cute guy or girl across the bar does for fun? Metromix took to the streets of Adams Morgan Saturday night with one question on our mind: What unique thing do you love to do for fun in the Metro area?” But the text of the hyperlink redeems Dhillon’s sincerity by subtly pointing out the banal underbelly of Metromix’s burning question: “Click here to see our 25 favorite responses. The answers may surprise you. (Or not.)”
• Pimp your blog. Konheim’s latest DC Scene blog post appeared to be a cry for help. The item—titled “If you interviewed your idol (Dave Barry) in a forrest, did it make a sound?”—was posted on Aug. 20 on the BLAHG, a dumping ground for writers of the DC Scene. Konheim has been writing for the Web site since December 2006 without pay.
In the post, Konheim recalls encountering Barry at a book signing. “I then had the idea that maybe I could interview him for the D.C. Scene or possibly some other publication that would pay,” writes Konheim, who approached Barry’s agent and “awkwardly scribbled some contact information on a piece of notebook paper (note to editor: this is an indirect plea for some business cards, please).” Konheim didn’t hear back from Barry’s camp, so when he again ran into Barry, this time at a Washington Post scavenger hunt, he seized the opportunity to perform some guerrilla journalism. “That’s what we journalists do: Interview now, think later,” writes Konheim.
But after failing to parlay the impromptu interview into a paid piece, Konheim just threw it up on the BLAHG. “I had the opportunity to interview my idol recently but it might not have counted unless I did something with the interview,” he writes. The blog ends with the awkwardly spaced exclamation, “He h,” followed by the clarion call of forgotten blogs everywhere: “Categorised in Uncategorized.”
Metromix does not have a blog.
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