But as traditional print publications have struggled, and in some cases collapsed, in the global transformation to digital media, the Beacon has soldiered on, buffered in large part by the fact that its target audience — readers older than 50 — has consisted largely of people who prefer the old-fashioned feel of a newspaper in their hands.
“Boomers I know, and seniors as well, they all say, ‘Oh, I like my paper. I want my physical paper. I want to be able to glance at the headlines, and the advertisements,’ ” said Stuart Rosenthal, 56, the paper’s editor and publisher.
While television is still the leading news source for people 50 and older, the percentage of people 65 and older who list newspapers as a main news source has remained steady since 2001, at about 55 percent, according to an August report from the Pew Research Center. But that is likely to change as more tech-savvy generations turn 50. In the Pew study, only 29 percent of people between 50 and 64 cited newspapers as a main source of news, down from 49 percent in 2001.
For now, however, rather than scramble to stay on top of cutting-edge technology as general-interest publications must do, analysts say that older-audience papers can — and should — ride the wave gently.
“You have to stay with your market: You can’t get too far ahead; you can’t get too far behind,” said Ken Doctor, a media analyst for Newsonomics, a California consulting firm. That market will likely tip in favor of electronic reading at some point in the coming years, he said.
When Rosenthal founded the Beacon in 1989, he was not thinking about the digital future. An overworked tax attorney whose wife was a magazine editor, Rosenthal came home late one night and announced that he would rather be doing something like what she did. The two decided to start a newspaper for older readers, to fill a need they didn’t see being met in Washington.
Basing it on a similar model in Colorado Springs, the couple put out their first edition with about 15,000 copies and drove up and down Wisconsin and Connecticut avenues, dropping them off in restaurants and residential high-rises.
Shortly afterward, they received the voice mail complaining about the size of the crossword clues. They were delighted. “Bang!” he said. “We have a reader!”
Now, Rosenthal estimates that the Beacon has more than 200,000 readers in greater Washington, and about 400,000 for all its editions.
Stories range from travel tips to advice about avoiding scams to helping retirement money go further to understanding restless leg syndrome. Readers include retired federal workers, older people who have moved to the area to be near their children and residents of the area’s many retirement communities.