When The Pew Center for the People and the Press released a study last spring showing that television-news viewership has fallen precipitously in the last three years, the news media, not surprisingly, paid attention.
Media analysts and journalists speculated that the decline, particularly among young people, had to do with lack of time and lack of relevance in TV news stories. But there was another reason cited by the poll: computers and the amount of time young people spend with them.
One solution, discussed by broadcasters for some time, is logical and doable. It's to target two screens simultaneously - the TV screen and the computer screen. In other words, to reach young people where so many of them are.
NBC News is first off the launching pad. On July 15, as part of a $1 billion joint venture with Microsoft Corporation, it introduced MSNBC, a 24-hour news-and-talk cable channel and Internet service.
(As with many start-ups, there are problems: MSNBC currently can be seen only in a limited number of cable homes, and critics of the Internet service complain it is overloaded with graphics and sound-clips.)
But despite the rough start, NBC and Microsoft likely will attract younger viewers with an interactive news service. Look at MTV, the cutting-edge cable network whose audience consists primarily of teens and young twentysomethings.
On Aug. 1, MTV will launch a spinoff music channel called M2, which will be among the first cable channels with a 24-hour link to computer users. With M2, viewers will be able to watch the same music videos on their computers as they can on television, for example.
News, obviously, is a harder sell than popular music. The danger with any cable/Internet service is putting too many stories of limited value on the air simply because the technology enables broadcasters to gather so much information. But if MSNBC is looking for young people - and if it can offer news that is fresh, relevant, and compelling - then the computer is a good place to find them.