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Insights for publishers from the latest Reuters study

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Reuters has published a new report, “How young people consume news and the implications for mainstream media” in collaboration with strategic consultancy Flamingo. It is based on insights gained from digital tracking of the news consumption of under-35s in the US and the UK along with detailed diaries and interviews.

The research looks into the news consumption patterns of the under-35s, and offers insights about the kind of journalism or brand positioning that might appeal to them. It set out to answer two key questions:

  • How do young people consume news?
  • How can news publishers attract young readers, listeners and viewers?

Among the core findings is the insight that there is a disconnect between what traditional news publishers perceive the role of news to be, and what the younger generation desires from it. 

Traditional news brands feel their job is to tell people what they should know. Young people want that to an extent but they also want what is useful to know, what is interesting to know and what is fun to know.

Nic Newman, Senior Research Associate at Reuters Institute

The study notes that young people are primarily driven by goals of achieving progress and enjoyment in their lives. This influences their news consumption. 

Six core needs of young news consumers

The research identified six core needs driving the under-35s’ engagement with the news. Reflecting the key themes in their goals and ambitions, some news needs pull more towards progress, others toward enjoyment and fun. 

News satisfies progress-related needs like: 

  1. Status: In different contexts news relates to a social standing. Knowledge is valued. Being ‘in the know’ gives an individual gravitas and boosts confidence.
  2. Identity: News helps people construct and communicate their identity. The news they engage with enables readers to define and express who they are, and their world view.
  3. Learning: News contributes to self-improvement through learning. It helps people develop new skills and ways of seeing the world, as well as make better decisions and stay ahead of the curve.

    News also serves needs related to enjoyment, they are:
  4. Connections: News is the ultimate source of small (and sometimes ‘big’) talk that helps lubricate daily conversations. It allows an individual to confidently reach out and connect to people with whom they may have little in common. It is also the topic of discussion with friends and family. 
  5. Entertainment: News can be fun. Being immersed in other worlds for pleasure, feeling inspired, enjoying creativity, or simply passing time. 
  6. Passions: News also helps people fuel and pursue their passions and interests, or to experience things they wouldn’t usually in daily life. 

Bearing in mind the key themes of progress and entertainment, there are three ways to drive news brands in the right direction: 

1. Personal Utility: news that… 
a. Is useful for the audience 
b. Helps their personal development 
c. Contributes to their status & identity
d. Can act as social glue 

2. Entertainment: news that… 
a. Is enjoyable and engaging to consume 
b. Has high entertainment value 
c. Has fun content and delivery

3. Point of View: news that… 
a. Has a point of view or an angle on a story 
b. Is clearly informed by facts (rather than prejudice or agenda) 
c. Helps the reader develop his own point of view 
d. Is different compared to predictable / politicised / extreme opinion and ideology

Engaging readers in key news moments

The study found that the under-35s tend to access news throughout the day, often via social media, but also pick up some habitual and direct usage patterns (especially in the mornings). 

The report suggests that understanding the expectations of different audiences and the ‘moments’ they are in will be critical for engagement with particular platforms.

Four key news moments are described in the report (dedicated, updated, time-filler, and intercepted), as are four types of news consumer (Heritage News Consumers, Dedicated News Devotees, Passive News Absorbers, and Proactive News Lovers). 

It is important that news content, format and tone fit the roles and moments they are intended for. Otherwise, news brands run the risk that experiences are not seamless or intuitive, and younger audiences will disengage.

Reuters’ How Young People Consume News and the Implications for Mainstream Media 

The study offers a number of suggestions on how to produce content and formats that might engage younger audiences. It arrives at three core conclusions: 

Simple and intuitive like Facebook or Netflix

Reuters suggests news media need to make websites and apps easier to use for younger groups – as simple and intuitive as Facebook or Netflix. This means making the news more enjoyable to consume.

It also indicates using clearer language, more interactive storytelling and better recommendations that surface interesting content for younger groups. 

You know, if someone hadn’t read about Brexit at all until now and then tried to pick it up they wouldn’t have a clue what it’s going to be like. You’d have to look everything up from scratch, and then it would be even more of a chore.

Luke, early twenties, UK (respondent)

A regularly-updated BBC guide, ‘Brexit: All you need to know about the UK leaving the EU’ offers short, factual answers to the most popularly asked questions around the Brexit process (such as ‘Could Brexit be cancelled?’), as well as an interactive ‘jargon buster’. 

The website is designed so that readers can quickly skim to the areas that interest them, or study in depth relevant policy documents.

A video and accompanying article by Vox, ‘How Marginal Tax Brackets Actually Work’ quickly debunks popular assumptions around increasing tax rates on wealth, explaining a complicated policy issue efficiently through simple, effective illustrations.

Fitting expectations

News brands need to tell stories in ways that fit the expectations of young people and the moments when they are open to news. 

This means creating formats that are native to mobile and social platforms, as well as incorporating these ideas into their own websites and apps – but without losing the trusted authority of a traditional news brand. 

The Espresso app, by the Economist, provides daily news briefings via a series of ‘short reads’. Each story requires around three scrolls on a phone, and always ends on an interesting quote – functioning as a kind of ‘snack’ that can be consumed on-the-go.

Informed by facts rather than prejudice or agenda

The way the news media covers stories may need to change, addressing issues such as negativity, stereotypes, and diversity. 

Young people don’t want the media to shy away from serious or difficult stories, but they would also like to see stories that can inspire them about the possibility of change and provide a path to positive action. 

Brands like Al Jazeera were mentioned positively because it was felt that they told stories in a more authentic way, using local voices and perspectives. 

I was particularly interested in looking at international news from, like, not a western, biased perspective. So, for those purposes I really liked Al Jazeera, because I feel like it spoke of the United States news in a way that wasn’t highly biased, and it was just the facts laid out. Even for national news, using Al Jazeera as an outsider’s perspective to read it.

Alex, early thirties, UK (respondent)

Younger audiences will respond to news that has personal utility or helps with their development. They are also hungry for stories with a ‘point of view’ but they need to be informed by facts rather than prejudice or agenda. 

The Guardian’s The Internet is an unusual multimedia article that emulates people’s experience of the internet in countries shaped by censorship or slow connections. Audiences found the experimental formatting engaging and informative, and said that it helped them develop a perspective on internet freedom and access.

In conclusion, Matthew Taylor, Report Lead for Flamingo comments, “Overall, young people would like traditional media to be more accessible, more varied and more entertaining but they are clear that they don’t want news to be dumbed down or sensationalised; traditional brands have an authority grounded in heritage and should remain true to that. 

“This will be a difficult balance to strike but there are a number of emerging examples – from brands like the Guardian and Vox – of podcasts or interactive explainers that are moving in this direction.”

Download the full report from Reuters:
How young people consume news and the implications for mainstream media