Generation Z is not defined by a span of birth years. They are defined by how they live.
“This generation acts differently,” INMA Product Initiative Lead Jodie Hopperton wrote in her takeaways from the recent Product Innovation Master Class. “They live on smartphones and have no patience for technology that doesn’t work … . If you use social media to lure Gen Z back to your O&O platforms, they likely won’t follow. Feed their curiosity and link back for additional context.”
Media leaders from Verdens Gang, The Washington Post, The News Movement, and De Telegraaf shared how their companies are working to understand and better serve Gen Z by focusing on what they already do best: creating great news content.
Andreas Boehler, head of user experience at Verdens Gang (VG), a tabloid owned by Schibsted in Norway, has been promoting experiments and surveys to see what can be done to attract the younger readership.
“Gen Z has really high standards and high expectations, especially toward digital service,” Boehler said. “And they have zero time for bullshit.”
Any digital news platform looking to survive, much less grow, needs to court Gen Z users who want to consume the news — but on their terms.
Boehler advised publishers look into forming some sort of “young poster” guidelines on how to address and reach the Gen Z audience. VG has conducted interviews and surveys to better understand and serve the generation. One Gen Z user asked why journalists use complicated language.
“Do we write for other journalists? Is that the main audience?” Boehler said. “We have in our head when we write, because we want to be appreciated more, like, get kudos from our fellow journalists? That’s at least how I feel. Sometimes I think that our users also have that reflection.”
The Washington Post
In August of 2021, The Washington Post announced the creation of the Next Gen team as “a new initiative to accelerate the acquisition of younger and more diverse audiences through new products, practices, and partnerships.”
Phoebe Connelly, senior editor for Next Gen audience development, thinks the most challenging question for news organisations is not knowing what Gen Z wants — it’s figuring out how to refocus newsrooms to properly address that.
Journalists fundamentally want readers to understand the story they’re telling, and younger audiences “want our best journalism.” Connelly said the research shows they want a focus on accountability, they want us to explain things, but they need it delivered on platforms and in formats they expect.
“It’s not enough to say, ‘We’ve done this journalism and maybe we’ll tease it on a platform,’” she said. “We need to make sure we’re meeting them in terms of format expectations.”
She realised there was a fear in the newsroom that the Next Gen team was “going to ask them to do something they didn’t know how to do or that wasn’t journalism.” They had to offer reassurance that the change wasn’t about the journalism they were doing, just how they were doing it.
While younger audiences may want the news in a different format, they still care deeply about the kind of news and issues The Post was already reporting on, Connelly said: “They aren’t going to suddenly want gummy worm videos if you’ve been doing political analysis.”
The News Movement
To appeal to a generation that is unlike any other previous generation, news media companies need to meet Gen Z audiences where they are. To do that, Ramin Beheshti became president and co-founder of The News Movement, a U.S.-based company that is rethinking how content is created.
The News Movement has two brands under its umbrella: TNM and Recount. It also has a commercial arm with agencies, events, and helping other publishers. TNM provides non-partisan news on platforms that are used by young people — think TikTok, YouTube, Instagram, and Snap — and Recount specialises in short-form video journalism and focuses more on politics.
The result of this approach has been nearly 2 billion views and a 10% average engagement rate: “That 10% of people who watch our content then do something with it, they comment on it, they share it, and or they save it as well,” Beheshti said, noting the industry average engagement rate on social is around 4% to 5%.
By identifying what is working with Gen Z (and what’s not), Beheshti said the company has created a unique approach to news coverage. For starters, it hired Gen Zers and presents the news from a “friends-telling-friends” perspective instead of presenting them as experts.
“The journalists who appear on camera will talk about the gaps in their knowledge and, as the story develops, how they’re filling in their gaps,” he explained. “So we’re trying to take them on [journalists] rather than talking down to the audience. And I think that that warmth has resonated with the people that follow us.”
Kamran Ullah, deputy editor-in-chief for De Telegraaf, said learning 41% of Gen Z is avoiding news because they don’t find it relevant or they find it too negative was not disheartening. Instead, the team saw it as an opportunity to attract the other 59%.
To get ideas on how to engage this group, they created a team of Gen Z co-workers and asked them to come up with ideas for the Gen Z approach. There were no restrictions on budget or considerations for internal politics.
“One of the first things they came up with was: Our generation has the same needs when it comes to news,” Ullah said. “We expect news, so bring us the news and don’t bring us other news. It’s the way to reach and then track that’s different. It’s more on the socials, it’s more distribution that’s different, but don’t change the news on our own platform. So, that was a key takeaway for us as an editorial team.”
Telegraaf also has a reputation for having reputable and recognisable public faces as part of their news organisation. They wanted to take that same concept and apply it to the Gen Z approach.
“The thing they came up with: We need familiar faces especially in video because we need more video on social media,” Ullah said. “And I think this is very much in line also with Meta, who is fully focused on less news on Facebook and more video.”