Publishers and broadcasters struggling to reach under-35s will have to radically rethink their content, the platforms they employ, and the formats they serve up, according to a new transatlantic digital tracking study from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism.

A new report commissioned by the Reuters Institute, Oxford University’s research centre on global media, and authored by the strategic consultancy Flamingo finds that Gen Y and Gen Z news consumers want from news content.

“Overall, young people would like traditional media to be more accessible, more relevant and more entertaining but they are clear that they don’t want news to be dumbed down or sensationalised,” said Matthew Taylor, report lead for Flamingo.

“This will be a difficult circle to square but there are a number of emerging examples from brands like the Guardian and Vox of podcasts or interactive explainers which are achieving this balance”.

The daily podcast has become a major trend in the news ecosystem. With examples from The Guardian (Today in Focus) and The New York Times (The Daily).

These are an important news product. Speaking to the IAB’s Sound Investment conference earlier this year, Jack Preston creative lead (UK) for the podcasting platform Acast observed how this kind of audio news presentation had shifted from being a tool with which to bring people to the news organisation’s website. “It’s a new way to showcase journalism. It’s changing how people interact with the news. It’s exposing their journalism to different sets of people.”

Motivation: Young people read/watch news mostly for progress and enjoyment.

Progress reflects some classical reasons for keeping up to date with the news, including status and learning, but it also helps people to construct and communicate their identities by feeding their knowledge of the subjects they care about. Enjoyment is also both a personal and social motivation.

The surveyed group still need and want news to connect their world to the world - and fulfil an array of different social and personal needs – but they don’t necessarily see the traditional media as the best or only way to do this. They see news as a mix of what you should know as well as what you need to know. Flamingo finds that younger audiences are more interested in what the news can do for them as individuals.

The report identified four key news moments: There are four separate news ‘moments’ that run from direct (top) to indirect (bottom):
  • Dedicated: Time focused on concentrated news reading/watching, most likely during evenings or weekends when people are looking for deeper understanding.
  • Updated: Quick news updates that suit mornings.
  • Time-filler: Killing time by looking at content, not necessarily news per se.
  • Intercepted: News notifications that interrupt another activity.
These moments are important to understand for news organisations. Not only do they need to make their products more navigable, but they need to think about the specific moment they’re fulfilling.

The study concludes with three key points:
  1. The news experience should feel as easy and accessible as Netflix or Facebook. Not only in terms of product but in the use of plain language and explanatory content, that removes the friction between people and information.
  2. Stories need to be told in a way that fit the expectations of young people and the moments in which they are consuming different types of news.
  3. The way news media covers stories needs to change. Many respondents felt put off by relentless negativity, false balance, and a sense of impotence. Giving readers a sense of how they can have a stake in the outcome could help this.
Method: Flamingo spoke with 16 individuals in the UK and US (along with 16 members of their friendship groups) during January and February of 2019. Flamingo also tracked smartphone behaviour, and analysed news content – including that taken directly from respondent data – semiotically to try to get at the forces underpinning interview responses. The report defines both generations as a broad bunch, and splits each in two: Gen Z are defined in the younger group as 18-20, and the older group as 21-24; Gen-Y are split 25-30 and 31-35.

Sourced from Reuters Institute, WARC