Gen Z readers need news media to know these 3 things

By Bente Zerrahn

Axel Springer

Berlin, Germany


Currently, there’s an interesting market shift taking place.

More than 40% of global consumers are part of Generation Z. Given they are the first truly digital native generation, their needs and expectations toward the products they buy and consume are vastly different from anyone else’s before.

However, the people making said products tend to not be part of this generation, which poses an interesting challenge for all industries but especially the media sector. How do you address people that “associate newspapers with not even their parents but their grandparents?” We see this, as statistics show subscribers are much older, even with the corresponding digital formats.

TikTok may be a good way to reach Gen Z readers. Facebook not so much.
TikTok may be a good way to reach Gen Z readers. Facebook not so much.

Yet, Gen Z (also known as zoomers) is willing to spend a lot of money on content. Video and music streaming alike are primarily engaged in by people aged 25 or younger. One could argue young people aren’t political or interested in what’s going on around them. (On the other hand, people regularly complain about how many social justice causes Gen Z is invested in and how one “can’t even speak anymore without being cancelled online.” But that’s a different topic entirely.)

As a zoomer myself, I’m obviously biased. However, historically speaking, I think it’s fair to say there’s never been a young generation that has not been majorly political. Just look at global student and campus activism since the 1800s.

So, young people not subscribing to news isn’t due to the fact they don’t want to pay for content. It’s not the fact that news overall doesn’t interest them, either. So, what is it?

These three critical points make or break Gen Z engagement.

1. Social media

This one is the most obvious. Having never lived in the analogue age, we grew up with the Internet and all its possibilities. The accompanying over-accessibility of information drastically changed our user behaviour.

Our parents and grandparents had a dedicated newspaper time slot allocated — usually in the morning, accompanied by a steaming cup of coffee. And it makes sense to catch up on everything relevant to prepare for the day ahead, while maybe rounding the day off with an evening news session on the TV.

Younger generations, however, prefer snacking on their news, reading a little something whenever it happens or is convenient (such as when waiting for public transport or brushing their teeth). Sharing is relevant as well; when something is interesting, the natural impulse is to share it with friends who might care as well.

For publishers, this means considering the platforms on which you choose to reach us. This might depend on your country, but Facebook, for example, is an aging platform that might make you miss your mark fully. TikTok, however, has been growing immensely.

2. Format

Most, if not all, publishers have a Web site as well as an app these days. However, those are not laurels to rest on. Having a huge, unorganised wall of information definitely does not invite people to spend money on a product.

As superficial as it seems, aesthetics (that is, a crisp user experience [UX]) has a huge influence on how attractive your offerings are to younger people. Publishers’ UX should clearly support consuming content: well-organised with high-quality infographics, videos, and a UX that makes navigation easy. This includes having a well-oiled search engine!

Another interesting aspect is newsletters, which allow for readers to dive deep into topics that truly interest them without all the noise. Having a Gen Z-only channel or product would also be an interesting strategy (I’m looking at you, Morning Brew).

3. Fact-checked news

Like most people, zoomers aren’t huge fans of fake news — surprise! We’ve grown up with all the ups and downs of the Internet at our fingertips, which means taking nothing read online by face value.

Trust is important: Research shows only one-third of Gen Z trusts local news outlets
Trust is important: Research shows only one-third of Gen Z trusts local news outlets

Especially since the Trump era, the need for credible, unbiased, and fact-based reporting has grown more than ever. A big contributor to this is a diversity of opinions and a focus on unbiased reporting (in other words, the opposite of American breakfast TV). This includes different sources being weighed against each other, as well as a diverse cast, including diversity in ethnicity, gender, age, social background, and more.

Additionally, though, honesty is a requirement for any brand trying to appeal to younger generations. This means very directly owning up to mistakes being made, without the corporate buzz talk. Only one-third of questioned members of Gen Z trust local news outlets; they are even less likely to blindly rely on national news.

This is a huge opportunity for publishers to improve their image by actually taking those concerns seriously. Giving data journalism a bigger stage would definitely be a step in the right direction. Additionally, working with credible journalist “influencers” (people who work conscientiously and have been shown to be critical) could help.

If all of this seems obvious at first, but implementing it deeply into a product proves difficult, I only have one final suggestion: Listen to your younger colleagues! What they lack in experience they certainly make up for in intuition regarding possibilities with new media formats and an understanding of their peers.

About Bente Zerrahn

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