No, the kids are not all right (and why publishers should care)

By Bente Zerrahn

Axel Springer

Berlin, Germany


In a recent blog post, I talked about addressing Gen Z (and gave an INMA Webinar on it). I only briefly talked about the fact they are avoiding news — but not why. Understanding what makes them tick is the first step in reeling them back in.

In case you haven’t checked out the recent Reuters report, 47% of Zoomers perceive news as “biased and untrustworthy.” Growing up in the digital world means being highly aware of how easily information can be manipulated, especially since the Trump era.

Most people belonging to Generation Z have lived their entire lives amid crises.
Most people belonging to Generation Z have lived their entire lives amid crises.

However, they’re also acutely aware of social media bubbles. This evidently doesn’t stop them from using the platforms, but who can blame them? Where else do you have all your friends, favourite topics, and celebrities in one place?

Nonetheless, it does create massive distrust toward anything they read and watch online. Add this to the mix of a general increase in distrust in media and it explains why it’s tough to distribute news.

Additionally, there is also a constant fear of getting cancelled when sharing something “problematic,” so it’s much easier not relying too much on what you read online. Although, to be fair, Gen Z is very digitally literate so is the best equipped to fact check news. However, it’s obviously time intensive to do this for every titbit of news you find, so it’s understandable that this isn’t possible all the time.

Which brings me to my next point: We’re currently in times of relentless technological innovation. Everyone has constant access to the entire world and all the 2.5 quintillion (that’s 10 to the 18th power) bytes of data being generated daily, including streaming, communication, and — you guessed it — news. It’s no wonder that even before the pandemic, words like “digital detox” and “doomscrolling” were commonly used.

Additionally, “news fatigue” joined the mix. People were already stressed out before, so what changed? Do young people just not care about the world? I would argue it’s quite the opposite: News avoidance comes from a place of deep caring.

To elaborate on why I feel confident sharing this statement, it makes sense to take a step back and look at the short amount of time Gen Z has been on the planet. People identifying with this generation have had a lifetime of crises, and most aren’t even old enough to drink yet (at least in the United States).

It started with 9/11, followed by the 2008 housing crisis and the ensuing global recession. Now, there’s COVID-19, a new major war, massive inflation, and our planet is also running hotter by the year!

Add all that together and it’s no longer a surprise that Gen Z has the highest rates of anxiety and depression compared to any other age group. Actually, Zoomers respondents of a McKinsey study were “more likely to report having been diagnosed with a behavioural health condition (for example, mental or substance use disorder) than either Gen Xers or Baby Boomers. [They] were also two to three times more likely than other generations to report thinking about, planning, or attempting suicide in the 12-month period spanning late 2019 to late 2020.”

Long story short: The kids are not alright. And one could argue that removing negative content from your life (like a 24/7 stream of bad news) is actually self-care.

However, it is our job as publishers to inform and contextualise the world, and to play its vital role in democracy that it’s meant to play (perhaps too much pathos but right nonetheless). So, perhaps before we bash Zoomers once more for “killing industry X,” being uninterested in the state of the world, or acting like “special snowflakes,” it might make sense to empathise with their circumstances and adjust our products accordingly.

About Bente Zerrahn

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