Instead of courting Millennials, should news media skip this generation?

By Maria Terrell

M.Terrell Consulting

Dallas, Texas, USA


skip a generation: To be present (as a trait or behaviour) in a person and the person’s grandchild, but not in the intervening generation (the person’s child).

It’s interesting to note that red hair and blue eyes can both skip a generation because they are recessive. A cleft chin can skip generations because of something called incomplete dominance. Notice the trend? These are weaker traits, therefore being skipped in a generation.

Looking at generations, it feels there’s never been more generational focus than there is on Millennials.

Organisations are clamouring to change their culture to attract Millennials to come work for them. Companies are coming up with products to “serve their unique needs.” This generation grew up in a world that all of us born prior can, literally, not imagine.

Just think what your life would have been like if there had been the Internet and smartphones. Really let that sink in.

But, just as they’re the perceived unicorn that all companies are grasping for, these same companies may not realise the challenges of taming the Millennial beast. This video, obviously a humourous post, does bring to light interesting traits about Millennials.

Consider the impact of changing your content and positioning of your news media organisation to attract Millennials. Is that the audience you want? Is that your mission as a company?

Perhaps we’re hunting after an audience when, looking at its current traits, we should be skipping a generation.

Hear me out here. The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and major metro newspapers (likely anywhere) have long offered discounted student subscriptions, hoping to get students to subscribe. There’s logic in the offer: trying to create reading habits of their products, the old “get ‘em young” concept.

However, students typically need to mature into becoming readers, realising the quality and necessity of the content as it becomes relevant to their personal and professional lives. Although the data is hard to find, I would be willing to bet readership ages (adjusted for life expectancy over the generations) for paid newspapers has always been an older, more established age.

This trend is likely not going to change without news media companies dramatically changing what they offer and the pricing therein.

That begs the question, what is the value of a Millennial audience to newspapers? Is there ROI beyond advertising? If they don’t pay for and say they don’t want your product, are you trying to change for an audience that you don’t want that doesn’t want you?

Millennials are online and spending a disproportionate amount of time online and with over-the-top options and apps. But that isn’t necessarily searching for information.

In October 2016, 1,000 people ages 13-33 were asked the one source (specific site, newspaper, show, app, etc.) they turn to for news the most. Here are their top-20 current go-to sources:

  1. CNN.
  2. Local news channel, site, or app.
  3. Facebook.
  4. Fox.
  5. The New York Times.
  6. Twitter.
  7. NPR.
  8. Google News.
  9. BuzzFeed.
  10. BBC.
  11. Yahoo.
  12. Reddit.
  13. NBC.
  14. ABC.
  15. Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.
  16. Apple news app.
  17. HuffPost.
  18. The Daily Show with Trevor Noah.
  19. News app.
  20. Tumblr/The Washington Post.

Ken Doctor’s Politico article mirrors these results, with a bit more heft, if you’d like to take a gander.

Of course, the recent fake news trend is bringing focus to facts and quality journalism, so I believe this list would be slightly changed today, as everyone is realising the need for verified, quality news. Regardless, although we are clamoring for Millennials, if you look, they’re actually turning to us for news … just as we are.

So, if you piece all of this together, Millennials grew up in a reality that is completely foreign to every other generation. They’re not fully grown. Tumblr, Snapchat, Imgur, and a slew of other words missing vowels are still their thing.

But, they’re entering a phase of their lives where they turn to news media outlets for quality information. The more quality and personalised news media organisations are in the delivery (vehicle) of content (that is, not creating new content, but rather offering the content where, when, and how Millennials want it), the more this demographic will engage with us.

Once the Millennial generation matures and the clamor is for Generation Z/The Founders, the traits that we skipped will have matured into the audience you serve.

About Maria Terrell

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