Gen Z questions the news media’s agenda

By Nevin Kallepalli

New York, United States


Is anyone here under 26?

Rachel Richardson, a consultant and former head of editorial at Snapchat, asked the audience at her panel discussion during last week’s INMA World Congress of News Media in New York. 

A few raised their hands, but the metaphoric crickets chirped. Perhaps this speaks to the importance of the topic she and Lucy Blakiston, founder of the digital platform Shit You Should Care About, were about to discuss: Gen Z. 

10 things media must know about Gen Z

Richardson offered her 10 commandments about the Gen Z’s attitudes toward the Internet, news, and themselves. In her time at Snapchat, her team developed the app’s “discover” arm. In 2020, 90% of American zoomers consumed content she helped create. 

It has been her full-time job to understand just what makes them click — much of which comes down to complex historical factors that are unique. Having grown up through an ongoing cost of living crisis, the constant threat of gun violence in schools, and, most recently, the pandemic, their thought process toward the news sets them apart from previous generations.

Taking the example of the oldest Zoomers born in 1997, Richardson offered several key data points about the media scape in which they were socialised: They never experienced a world without the Internet. Facebook launched when they were 7. They were 10 when the first iPhone came out. 

“They are social natives. And this has shaped them in a number of ways,” she said, explaining that they generally are less religious, more liberal, more inclusive, and, most importantly, far moreskeptical of institutional authority than older generations.

Gen Z values the particularities of their racial, cultural, and social identities. But what reaches across their differences is how present they are on the Web: 97% of Gen Z reported they use the Internet daily, and nearly half of American 16- and 17-year-olds claimed to be online constantly. 

They mainly spend their time here:

Richardson pointed out that 95% of American Zoomers use YouTube everyday, followed by 67% for TikTok, 65% for Instagram, and 59% for Snapchat. Interestingly, YouTube and TIkTok are steadily becoming the preferred search engine over Google, radically shifting how information is sought out and distributed. 

Since the unprecedented popularisation of TikTok’s short form video style, it is nearly impossible to parse out the difference between various apps as everyone has migrated toward their model.


Time — or lack thereof — is key in trying to appeal to younger audiences. With the abundance of content, a video must captivate its viewer within a few seconds or they run the risk of being scrolled past. 

“The feed never ends,” said Richardson, and the window of time to engage a user was shortened significantly.


This means that short, bite-size parcels of content are the preferred and most natural vocabulary for young users of the Internet. 

Zoomers overwhelmingly consume their news on social media, but they still engage with text quite heavily — in the comments or on the video itself.

Judging by their childhoods spent on social media, it should come as no surprise this age group values the perspective of individuals over the authoritative voice of a brand or institution. To illustrate her point, Richardson cited a report that interviewed a young people about their perception of broadcast news:

“The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism quoted a 22-year-old British female participant about her preference, and I think its quite illuminating. She explained: A TV reporter who also has a TikTok page with regular updates on the situation feels comforting and more intimate than watching the TV news.”

With that comes a significant erosion of trust between young people and news media. 

Richardson cited another in-depth study from 2008 that found “almost nine in 10 young Millennials believe that the news was mostly or totally true.” But when that study was repeated in 2018, “only half of 12- to 15-year-olds said content on news Web sites was mostly or totally true.” 

In the span of a decade, trust decreased by roughly half.


According to Richardson, there is an important distinction to be made between “The News” (capital N) and news. 

“The News is the spring offensive in Ukraine or the sentencing of the Oathkeepers leaders for their roles in the January 6 insurrection; news lowercase then, could be TikToker Alix Early getting scammed while on holiday in Italy, or a wellness trend, or the Five Nights at Freddys trailer drop.” 

Accordingly, media companies must be able to report The News and news with particular sensibilities and voice.

To that point, all readers — no matter how old — are prone to avoid the news. 

Citing a Reuters Institute Digital News report, Richardson pointed out 30% of people said they actively avoid news. They cite a myriad of reasons including repetitiveness of the news agenda, feeling fatigued, and that theres too much politics. 

“News makes them feel powerless, it cant be trusted, and it leads to arguments,” said Richardson, describing the perceptions of those surveyed. 

On the (somewhat) bright side, Richardson assured attendees at World Congress that Generation Z is more than willing to pay for the content they love — streaming services, music, and podcasts, but only 8% pay for a news subscription. 

There is hope and Lucy Blakiston, co-founder of the media platform Shit You Should Care About, was a shining example of that.

Give the news, not the blues 

In 2018, Blakiston was sitting in the back of a lecture hall at her university. Perplexed by how to navigate news information (that often isn’t presented in a format young people find natural to engage with), Blakiston came up with her idea. 

The premise was quite simple: to create a platform that helps people her age understand the stories that they should be giving a shit about. 

The company's newsletter is becoming more important than its original social media strategy.
The company's newsletter is becoming more important than its original social media strategy.

It started with an Instagram account between her and her friend and co-founder Ruby. They pointed followers toward relevant stories in the news, mixed in with pop culture imbued with casual language, and humour. 

“We're not experts, but we can find some of the experts in all of this and point you in their direction,” she said.

They garnered quite a following, but everything changed during the 2020 lockdown. Without jobs or clear prospects, the duo committed full time. In three years, they grew from 200,000 to 2 million.

Today they’ve pivoted away slightly from their Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok presences and more toward their paid content: podcasting and a newsletter. Blakiston said they’re trying to “normalise paying for the media you love,” among young people. This means subscribers receive their newsletter — a true labour of love between the founders — and access to their “close friends” story on Instagram. 

Describing their subscriber model, she said, “Theyll come for the news, but they'll pay for the friendship.”

The overall success Shit You Should Care About is evident in their values. They prioritise transparency, an approachable tone, but above all, earnestness. Blakiston said. Of the many quippy maxims she offered the audience, one in particular stuck: “We give you the news, not the blues.”

About Nevin Kallepalli

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