I spend a lot of time thinking about audience. Mostly our customers, since I focus on subscriber retention, but I also spend a lot of time thinking about who isn’t our current customer: people under 40.

I wanted to think it wasn’t an awareness problem. We have a strong brand! Our brand is everywhere! You might have really strong opinions about our brand, but you know our brand. I wanted to think it was a life-stage problem. Oh, when people buy homes and have kids they’ll get a digital subscription.

Then an 8-year-old walked into my kitchen, looked at a pile of newspapers on the counter, and asked, “What are these?”

I think my heart skipped a few beats. I asked some follow-up questions, and discovered that this friend of my daughter’s had never seen a newspaper before. News is not predominantly what was on her television set, at least when she was awake. Her parents may very well be news consumers, but that consumption is happening invisibly, on a mobile device. When I read the eEdition on my phone on the bus in the morning, I’m no longer broadly sharing the brand with my printed-on-paper Star Tribune.

So, maybe … we do have an awareness problem. This is where I’m thrilled to introduce you to Ken Lawrence, education audience development manager here at Star Tribune. Ken’s entire job is to think about our current and future audience, help educators with news literacy and grow our brand with young audiences as a credible and reliable news source.

Ken started at Star Tribune in 2019, in a position initially funded by Google (thanks, Google!). Since then, he’s worked tirelessly to reimagine the Newspapers in Education program as a digital News in Education program, focused on making Star Tribune a reliable (and accessible!) resource for Minnesota educators and a source of credible local journalism for students.

He’s led the charge on our ambitious goal to bring Star Tribune access to all students across Minnesota and has now launched a new program for high school graduates: Free 1-year digital subscriptions, no strings attached.

It’s an opportunity to reach young people at a pivotal time in their lives, demonstrate the importance of Star Tribune and start building that daily reader habit, in an age when that habit is not as visible as it was in the past.

A screenshot of the form the Star Tribune used to sign up high school seniors for a digital subscription.

“Providing free digital access to all K-12 teachers and students is really a win-win-win situation,” Lawrence said. “It provides teachers and schools with a reliable resource to teach social studies, civics and current events; it helps teach news literacy by experiencing and engaging with a credible news source; and it demonstrates to younger audiences what Star Tribune provides and the importance of it. That will, we hope, lead to more people making the choice for Star Tribune – to make it part of their day and part of how they understand and engage with their community.”

Providing graduating seniors a free digital subscription is a natural extension of those goals.

“By providing graduating seniors a free subscription,” Lawrence continued, “we want to support them in their next chapter by providing them with access to local, national, and global news. Whether students plan to continue their education, begin their career or take some time for themselves, being informed with credible news will help them grow in their next endeavor.”

The team set a modest goal of 200 sign-ups. As of last count, that number had surpassed 350.