ENGAGING YOUNG READERS

Newspapers are dead.

It’s a phrase we hear often in modern times. And, in many instances, the phrasing is accurate.

However, we at The Observer are working hard to ensure that the print version of our publication lives on for many more years. Will it be an easy task? Probably not. But can we do it? Absolutely. We can and we are.

Here’s how.

Recently, Co-owner Lisa Feorenzo was able to resurrect a feature in print that was her brainchild many years ago and that through the years, sort of slipped through the cracks, if you will. It’s called “Bridging the Gap,” a concept she developed back in the early 2000s when she first took over as the newspaper’s publisher.

“I wanted to be able to ‘bridge the gap’ between our older readers and our younger readers,” she says. “I found that the generations didn’t understand each other. So we started giving the younger generation a chance to write on topics of their choice. We gave them a full page of space. And they wrote about just about any topic you could imagine.”

The column recently made its return thanks to a great new partnership between Harrison’s Washington Middle School and The Observer. Feorenzo met with Principal Michael Landy a few months ago — and Landy agreed to open up the opportunity for his eighth-graders to write a column each week.

So far, the response has been overwhelming, with at least five students penning columns on topics from adults not understanding teens because of the use of technology to one eighth-grader’s experience having a best friend who moved away (we’re hoping they reconnect after many years of being separated.)

Because of the school’s commitment to the column — coupled with its reading initiatives that include having the state’s first-ever book vending machine that is used to reward students who go above and beyond in and out of the classroom — The Observer gave WMS a newspaper stand where each week, the newspaper is delivered to the school for students to grab copies.

And because the eighth-graders are being published, Landy says the kids are picking up the newspaper to read their friends’ work.

“It’s great to see students grabbing a paper on their way to homeroom, looking over articles and talking about them with each other,” Landy says. “We placed the bin near our entrance near where we have a small sitting area. It’s great for our students to see what’s going on in the community and it the world.”

Lucien Sosa, an eighth-grader at WMS, was among the first to jump at the opportunity to have her writing featured in The Observer.

“I feel like a newspaper like The Observer has a history and it’s a family business and has been around since 1887,” she says.

Her classmate Jasmin Solis, also a contributor to Bridging the Gap, says she has a better feel that news is accurate when it’s in print over what she sees online in social media.

“I feel like a physical newspaper is somehow more trustworthy and easier to believe rather than reading something online,” Solis says.

Ema Nunes, another contributing eighth-grader, agrees.

“Anyone who writes in a newspaper puts so much thought and care into what they write — and online and internet news is so accessible to anyone and everyone that you never know if it’s true or coming from a bad place,” she says. “There is not as much effort to project that information.”

Three eighth-graders with insight. They get it. When you get your news from social media only, chances of inaccuracy are significantly increased. We’ve seen it on a regular basis.

“So we continue to do our best to bring the most accurate news to our readers,” Feorenzo says. “The goal to be first has hurt the way people get their news. We want to be right before being first. And we hope that translates into younger people wanting to pick up the newspaper.”

That, of course, translates into better opportunities for advertisers, too. If the kids are being published and picking up the newspaper, their parents, guardians and families, the money earners, are picking up the paper, too.

“It’s our plan to be around, in print, for a long time to come,” Feorenzo says. “We’ve adapted to the use of technology — and have since my dad purchased “theobserver.com” back in 1996. But we’re doing all we can to involve all the generations — bridging that gap — with the print newspaper. It will make a huge difference in the long run for all of our readers and advertisers.”

Learn more about the writer ...

Editor & Broadcaster at 

Kevin A. Canessa Jr. is the editor of and broadcaster at The Observer, a place where he has served on and off since 2006. He is responsible for the editorial content of the newspaper and website, the production of the e-Newspaper, writing several stories per week (including the weekly editorial), conducting live broadcasts on Facebook Live, including a weekly recap of the news — and much more behind the scenes. Between 2006 and 2008, he introduced the newspaper to its first-ever blog — which included podcasts, audio and video. Originally from Jersey City, Kevin lived in Kearny until 2004, lived in Port St. Lucie. Florida, for four years until February 2016 and in March of that year, he moved back to West Hudson to return to The Observer full time. Click Here to send Kevin an email.