Media Insight Project’s study “How Millennials Get News” reported that 85% of Millennials say keeping up with the news is at least somewhat important to them, giving news providers reasons to be optimistic about our chances of attracting this important audience.

You might be wondering why we are all so interested in this generation. People entering adulthood have always been different from older generations. So what’s new? Can’t we just wait for them to grow up?

We care because Millennials are a large group of trendsetters (75 million of them according to the U.S. Census) who will define general news consumption patterns for many years to come and they are behaving in fundamentally game-changing ways.

We can’t take it for granted that – left to their own devices (perhaps literally, considering how dependent they are on their smartphones) – they will grow up to read the news the way we deliver it today.

And, as important as they are to the future of news media, this is not just about the 18- to 34-year-olds. Young people are early adopters, and aspects of how they behave today will soon become the norm for everyone (remember when reading a book on your phone seemed impossible?).

Understanding the young news reader will help us see where everyone is going.

We need to evolve with them, but how?

The New York Times Consumer Insight Group found some clues from a series of quantitative and qualitative research among general news readers in the United States. We identified eight consumer segments with distinct combinations of demographics, attitudes, and behaviours, and one of these news reading segments is a group we call Emerging Millennials.

A news-savvy and striving subset of the Millennials generation, Emerging Millennials represent a significant growth opportunity for news organisations.

  • They are news readers in their 20s.

  • They are interested in a wide variety of topics, including national, local, and international news.

  • They rely on their smartphones for everything, including news and want rich media experiences that are optimised for these devices.

  • They feel out of touch when they are not using social media.

  • They look to their peers more than experts for advice.

  • Their primary preoccupations are their education, their careers, and how others perceive them.

They represent a growth opportunity for us because they are more open to trying new things: we found that this group is more likely to have added a new information source in the previous 12 months than older groups.

While social media is a huge disruptor for news, it is also a huge opportunity to reach our up-and-coming readers. Emerging Millennials are comfortable with serious news and “junkier” news appearing side-by-side in their social streams, but they also recognise news they get from social media is often silly.

They are discerning and want reliable sources for serious news. News reporting organisations like The New York Times are often their next destination after they have found a topic on social media that they want to dive into.

As for their willingness to pay for news, they understand that quality journalism costs a great deal to produce and, having grown up in the age of digital subscription services such as Netflix and Spotify, they are familiar with the concept of paying for digital content.

With so much news available for free, however, they struggle with the idea of paying for it now. On the bright side for those of us in news media, they can imagine paying for news in the future when they can afford it or if free sources they currently rely on begin charging.

Finally, we found that young people who read quality news today see themselves as go-to persons among their peers for understanding what’s going on in the world. They are natural ambassadors for quality news providers and have the power to advocate on our behalf.

Optimising their experiences with our brands is a key to driving audience growth and engagement among young news readers.