Millennials and the News

This post first appeared on the Engaging News Project’s Medium page

In what can feel like a never-ending list of issues facing the news industry, one issue seems to divide news organizations more than others: What do we do about Millennials? Some news organizations are putting all their eggs into the Millennial basket while others don’t consider them a priority. How does this group of people even feel about the news? Research tells us that their news consumption ranges from actively engaged in the news to completely unattached, but what does that tell news organizations about what Millennials want from the news?

We at the Engaging News Project wanted to learn more about this group and their connection to news. At our recent News Engagement Workshop, we brought together 12 digital news leaders and 25 students from the University of Texas at Austin to talk about the students’ news habits — something that the news leaders told us they had never done before. The students’ responses provided interesting insight into the news preferences of this age group.

They want the news delivered to them quickly. When asked where they get their news, almost all the students said their go-to news sources were ones that provided the news to them quickly, such as social media, news alerts/push notifications and newsletters like theSkimm. When it comes to longer stories, they said that while some issues definitely deserve the depth that a longer article provides, they would still like a summary of the content so they can get to the main points quicker.

They want unbiased sources. Young people today have grown up in an era of polarized media, where they have learned or been taught that certain news organizations are aligned with a certain political party. Several students told us they want access to credible news sources that will provide them both sides of an issue.

They want improved political coverage. One student said it best when she described politics as a “touchy subject.” Many students agreed that there is too much reporting on politicians’ personalities and not enough reporting about issues. They also said that some issues are too dense to jump into without some background, so they would like political content to include an outline of the issues being discussed.

They’re not lacking ideas for how to improve news presentation. When our workshop participants asked the students how they would improve news presentation to target Millennials, the students came up with a wide range of ideas including giving context to the people and places in the story; playing with story formats by using quizzes, lists and interactive layouts (aka be more like BuzzFeed); and making the news fun to read. Most importantly: “Don’t talk down to us just because we’re Millennials.”

Using the responses provided by the students, our workshop participants brainstormed new tools that could be used to engage Millennials in the news. Ideas they came up with included:

Rate stories on Facebook. Because the students said they want news without an obvious political leaning, and because they get most of their news from social media, our participants thought of a tool that would be used by Facebook users to rate news articles on a political spectrum (“Is this article left-leaning or right-leaning?”). The rating information would then be provided to publishers so they could work to make their content more down the middle of the political spectrum. Although rating stories is an interesting concept, we know that this would require more thought before implementing because people’s own political predispositions can influence whether they see the media as left- or right-leaning.

Distribution platform. Keeping in mind that the students wanted news that was quick and to the point, the workshop participants thought of a distribution platform that would provide five short summaries of issues of note on a particular day. The tool could be embedded on any news website, and news organizations would be able to contribute content to the daily feed.

Newcomer’s guide. Many of the students said that when they arrived in Austin to attend the university, they were unfamiliar with Austin’s elected officials or news affecting the city. To remedy that, the news leaders came up with the idea that local news organizations could create a newcomer’s guide that would feature an updated digest of important stories in the area and a list of key local services, such as where the nearest DMV is located.

We know that it is impossible to give an entire group of people what they want, but our hope is that with these brainstormed tools (and any that you reading think of…), news organizations will be able to better engage Millennials and, in turn, help them become better citizens.