Audience Engagement Digital Publishing Top Stories
5 mins read

By 2032, Gen Z will be the primary demographic for news publishers: How to engage them, starting today

Gen Z is projected to be news publishers’ largest future paying audience. A new INMA report examines their habits and provides tips to help publishers nurture this demographic into future paying subscribers.

It is predicted that by 2032 Gen Z will be the primary demographic targeted by news publishers, states a new INMA report, “What Gen Z + Media Need From Each Other.” The numbers are significant, as they are now the largest generation, comprising about 32% of the population. 

“Gen Z represents an even bigger shift (compared to Millennials) in readership habits,” writes author and INMA’s Ideas blog editor, Paula Felps. “It is incumbent upon news media companies to understand this generation and learn how its habits affect news consumption — and what that means to the future of newsrooms.” 

Having never lived in a world without digital technology, Gen Z is the most digitally savvy sector of the population. Going beyond a mobile-first mindset, Gen Z embraces a mobile-only approach to information. 

Paula Felps, Author, What Gen Z + Media Need From Each Other

The report delves into what research shows about Gen Z or Zoomers and explains the implications for news media companies. It features case studies from publishers around the world which examine the strategies they are using to attract Gen Z. 

The three key takeaways are: 

  1. Zoomers prefer to access news on social media via their mobile phones. 
  2. They seek authenticity and avoid crisis coverage.
  3. Hiring them is crucial for developing effective engagement strategies.

“Give themselves an edge”

“To engage the next generation of news readers,” the report states, “it’s critical for news media companies to learn not just how to deliver the news Gen Z is looking for, but to deliver it on the platforms where they live while ensuring they’re represented in the newsroom.”

News media companies that master the art of social media platforms will give themselves an edge in attracting younger users.

Paula Felps, Author, What Gen Z + Media Need From Each Other

“Nowadays, you have much more a behavior of snacking,” says Bente Zerrahn, Innovation Catalyst, Axel Springer, “where you’re brushing your teeth or waiting for your train or something, so you’ll just scroll through things and see everything that has happened. It doesn’t matter where your information is from as long as you can access it when you need it.”

Research done by Sydney Morning Herald found that showcasing the breadth of offerings, demonstrating value, experimenting with story formats, and improving distribution are the most effective strategies for convincing young readers to subscribe.

70,000 followers on TikTok in less than a year

“It’s really important to find the right platforms,” adds Zerrahn. This means focusing more on TikTok and Instagram instead of Facebook whose use has declined among 18- to-24-year-old users, according to Kirsten Eddy, a post-doctoral research fellow at the Reuters Institute. WhatsApp and Instagram usage continues to increase, but TikTok is the fastest-growing network for news. 40% of 18- to-24-year-olds use TikTok, and 15% of them use it for news.

Berlin-based publisher Funke Zentralredaktion is one of Germany’s first media companies to cover political topics on TikTok via its channel DuHastDieWahl. Its “videos deal with serious issues but still look fun and modern. We use typical TikTok tools to adapt to the creative environment of the platform,” says Amelie Marie Weber, Head of Social Media, Funke Zentralredaktion, Germany.  

“We take the approach of a big sister who is here to explain everything to the community,” she adds. “It is not uncommon for questions from the viewers to be the basis for new videos. But they are not the only sources when we are looking for new topics to explain. I also talk about current political events to make sure our followers are always well informed.” Weber often creates videos based on articles from Funke’s newspapers. She also interviews politicians for the channel, asking them questions that are interesting to young people.

The channel amassed almost 70,000 followers in less than a year with some of the videos reaching more than 3M viewers.

173% increase in traffic referrals from Instagram

The Australian is focusing on Instagram to engage Gen Z. The platform has become a key focus for the publisher’s digital strategy. A weekly Instagram quiz along with a radical new look and feel helped the channel increase its average daily reach by 398%, followers by 22% and comments by 919% YoY, according to its Social Media Editor, Elyse Popplewell.

“For us, the value in Instagram engagement is that mostly young audiences are sampling a portion of our vast product in ways they like to consume,” she notes. “When they follow us, they are reminded of the value of our brand upwards of five times a day when we meet them where they are: in their feed.”

While we are increasing dwell time on our posts, we are also building habits that support our subscription model.

Elyse Popplewell, Social Media Editor, The Australian

The Australian saw a 173% increase in traffic referrals from Instagram in the three months from May 2021 when it changed its strategy. 

“Really pay off with the younger generation”

“While brands should put more effort into meeting the needs of Gen Z readers,” according to the report, “it needs to be done authentically — not as a marketing ploy. Gen Z is sensitive to companies that don’t walk their talk, which means a company can lose followers and customers if it tries to be something it’s not.”

An EY research found that authenticity is the most important value for Gen Z. 92% of the respondents said authenticity is more important than any other personal value and that extends to the brands they follow. Zerrahn recommends purpose-driven reporting as a strategy that can “really pay off with the younger generation.” Topics like climate change, racial injustice, and health care can help drive interest as well as fact-checking. 

At the same time, Zoomers don’t want more crisis coverage. Reuters research has found too much political and Covid-19 coverage among the chief reasons behind news avoidance. It has a negative effect on readers’ mood, overwhelms them, and makes them distrustful. Publishers should try to make news more understandable and find ways to relieve readers from the intensity of breaking news, suggests Zerrahn.

We have different audiences. They have different things that interest them but are relevant to them, too. And that’s the bridge you have to gap. It’s nice to have all the cat videos, but also there’s breaking news — and [you need to understand] breaking news is not equal to breaking news for everyone.

Bente Zerrahn, Innovation Catalyst, Axel Springer

Working with members of Gen Z is crucial for success, the report suggests. “If you want them as users, they’ve got to be creators first,” says Corey Elliott, EVP, Local Market Intelligence, Borrell Associates. “You got to hire them and listen to them and branch off from that. If you do that, then they can build for this generation. If you just keep guessing at what this generation wants — like ‘We’re gonna show hip stuff’ and you know, promote a Billy Eilish concert, that’s not gonna do it.” 

They’ve got to be on the inside in order to generate the users on the outside.

Corey Elliott, EVP, Local Market Intelligence, Borrell Associates

The full report can be downloaded from INMA:
What Gen Z + Media Need From Each Other