Contemplating my future, I picked up yesterday the December issue of the (free) newspaper The Beacon (“in focus for people over 50”). It consisted of 80 tabloid-size pages, with some original articles, mainly syndicated content, and generously interspersed advertisements. The paper claims a readership in excess of 300,000 and won a 2006 General Excellence “Best of Show” Award from the North American Mature Publishers Association (NAMPA).
The Beacon’s front-page article reports about retirement-community members playing the Nintendo Wii virtual bowling game. Erickson Retirement Communities established a Wii bowling tournament across its retirement communities nation-wide, including the Riderwood retirement community. The article quotes Riderwood community members who participated in the Erickson tournament:
“Remember years ago when we used to bowl with our friends?” asked Jean Flanick, 74, another tournament participant. She was talking to her friends as they watched Claudia Davis knock down a last pin to nab a spare. “I haven’t bowled in 30 or 40 years.”
Subsequent text helps to convey the substance and tone of the article:
Flanick also mentioned how engaging the game was, thanks to the realistic sound effects, movements and visuals. Other players agreed that the game brought back nostalgic memories of bowling from their youth.
The article also reports comments from the public relations manager at Riderwood, the senior medical director for Erickson, an associate professor at the University of Maryland, Nintendo’s director of corporate communications, and a Nintendo senior manager of public relations. The article concludes with a brief description of a YouTube video of the tournament and the URL for it. Erickson Retirement Communities produced this video, which incorporates promotional material for Erickson retirement communities. The video is quite entertaining and has attracted about 300,000 views on YouTube in two months.
Wii virtual bowling points to good prospects for growth in the gaming industry. Games that involve brain-stimulating choices, major muscle movements, and social interaction have health and happiness benefits that passive, stationary, solitary media don’t. With innovative user interfaces and bright marketing approaches, digital games can greatly expand their user demographics. It’s never too early to start planning for retirement. Get your game console today!
The Beacon also indicates some important media trends. The Beacon probably pleases most of its readers in a direct way (rather than depressing, horrifying, or infuriating them, to serve its sense of the public interest). It probably also provides some useful information for most readers. However, the paper clearly lacks the sophistication and claimed public position of large, for-profit news media. It also appears not to measure up to the authenticity, commitment to democratic deliberation, and genuine concern for the public interest that readers often find in largely ignored, wholly unprofitable citizen journalism. Unlike most newspapers, The Beacon has grown strongly since its founding in 1989. Organizations with commercial interests outside of media are likely in the future to provide more sponsorship of media that serves directly particular groups.
 The reported readership statistic is from the publisher information box on the bottom left corner of page 2, Dec. 2007 print edition. The home page of the paper’s website states that the paper has “more than 250,000 active local readers.” The top banner of the Dec. 2007 edition states, “More than 200,000 readers throughout Greater Washington.” The website about page states: “Our two editions now total more than 130,000 copies each month, distributed free via more than 1,800 local distribution sites. We also mail more than 2,500 copies a month, many to subscribers living throughout the United States.” The yearly subscription price for the monthly magazine is $12 (third-class mail) or $36 (first-class mail). With respect to well-established general circulation newspapers, newspaper industry analysts have emphasized the importance of carefully analyzing various circulation figures.