City Paper is not for tourists
To capture young readers, the Washington Post last week announced plans to launch the Express, a free tabloid to be distributed at Metro stops each weekday. A day after the Post revealed its concept, Journal Newspapers Inc. jumped into the fray, announcing plans to do essentially the same thing. Another free-daily-tabloid company, Metro International S.A., may follow suit. Pretty soon, Metro stations around town will resemble polling stations.
By now, media consumers know what these companies will be offering: highly scannable papers stacked with wire stories, ads, and a few listings. Yet Dept. of Media remains fascinated with who is supposed to read them. So we undertook an exhaustive search throughout the District for the ultimate Express reader. The quest took us to the major subway lines and neighboring hot spots, including coffeehouses, cybercafes, and Urban Outfitterses.
Finally, on our way home from a long day of searching, we found our guy, riding the Red Line into D.C. from Silver Spring. His name is John Lector, and he’s 23. Here’s how our interview went.
Dept. of Media: So, where are you headed?
John Lector: Downtown.
DM: I couldn’t help noticing that you’re just sitting there looking at nothing. Are you depressed?
JL: Just riding, man. That’s just what I do when I ride Metro. Just ride…
DM: Funny thing: According to Frank Ahrens in last week’s Washington Post, your Metro conduct makes you the ideal target for the Post’s new Express newspaper, a free tabloid to be distributed at various subway stations. Post researchers found that a lot of people aren’t reading on the subway. They figure maybe you’d like to read something.
JL: [Fiddles with his iPod.]
DM: UhExpress will have quirky wire stories!
JL: [Stares a moment, then adjusts the volume.]
DM: Plus, the paper may have some content from WashingtonPost.com.
JL: Umm, then I can just get it from, like, WashingtonPost.com, right?
DM: Yes, you can. But you’d have it right here, handed to you before you get on the train. I mean, you won’t even have to dig it out of a box.
JL: If I wanted to read the paper, why would I mind digging it out of a box?
DM: Hold onit’s going to have entertainment listings and cool ads!
JL: Did you say “cool ads”?
JL: Like I can’t get ads online?
DM: Sure you can. But againthis is a product that will be handed to you for free and you can just skim and toss.
JL: LookI got my skateboard, my backpack, my cell, my tunes, my stuff. I don’t have enough hands for a paper.
DM: You don’t seem to understand. Newspapers are desperate to reach people like you. That’s why the Post launched its Sunday Source section, with lots of pictures and a cute dog in just about every edition.
JL: Yeah, I like dogs.
DM: There you go! The point is, there’s a three-sided media war brewing here, all for you. You’re the man here!
JL: Can’t you just give it to that guy? [Indicates 40-ish OMB employee reading Post sports section.] He might want it.
DM: No, he won’t. It’s not made for himhe demands a multi-part investigative series on the Everglades. The Post made this for you.
JL: The Post doesn’t know me.
DM: Oh, they sure do: You and your demographic cohorts are the first generation brought up entirely in the digital age, and this tabloid is designed with all your sensibilities in mind. You knowyou have a short attention span, you are individualistic and creative, you prefer snowboarding to baseball, and you hate being micromanaged, according to various marketing studies.
JL: Well, who likes being micromanaged? What stop is this?
DM: This is Farragut North.
JL: Later. Erik Wemple