We are not demos

The Associated Press just folded its well-intentioned but always ill-fated effort to bring news to the young, asap.

I don’t want to engage in I-told-you-so’s. Well, that’s a lie. I do.

asap was a decent product: good, lively, creative presentation of news stories. But it seemed to practically pander to its intended audience. When I first saw asap three or four years ago, I said it couldn’t work not only because of the business model — charging ever-more-strapped news organizations lots of money for syndication — but also because the very idea of targeting news to the young doesn’t compute. If it’s a good way to present news, it will be a good way to present news for most people. I’m not young (damnit). But I like lots of the things that supposedly appeal to the yunguns today. And them yunguns like plenty of old-style, traditional means of presenting news. It’s not about age and demographics, it’s about creativity, quality, efficiency, accuracy, directness. That is also the mistake that networks make when they try to target younger viewers (which, for them, means anyone under the age of 60 — really, it it does). They hire Katie or they use flashy graphics. I remember all-male committees at Time Inc. trying to come up with magazines for those women — what do they want, anyway? — and a woman who was then brought in to help edit one of them said these men saw women only “neck-to-knees.”

That says to us that we are going to be attracted by superficiality. And that is essentially insulting. Joan Feeney, a very wise editor I worked with a few times — as my partner on the launch of Entertainment Weekly — once said that if you start with a concept for a product you believe in and want, you might succeed. But if you start with a demographic you want to target, you’ll almost inevitably end up pandering or condescending. I’ve also long argued — ever since I worked for an editor at the end of my time at People who hated its audience — that apart from, perhaps, the editor of Barbie magazine, any editor putting out any product should feel a part of the community that product serves.

If you make journalism in the third person or second person, it will likely fail. You only have a chance if you make it in the first person.

So don’t look at all these newfangled internet thangies as if they are the province of them yunguns. Then you’ll never understand them. No, ask how you can use these new tools and methods to better serve yourself and you’ll likely serve others well. The only real requirement is an openness to change.

So it’s too bad that asap is folding. But I said at the time that instead of making it a separate product for a separate audience, they should incorporate its good ideas into the rest of what the AP and its clients do. I hope they still do that.

: MORE: Here‘s Steve Yelvington on asap, with more links. Juan Antonio Giner advises companies not to create “ghetto-sections” for young readers. And Scott Anderson analyzes the business proposition.