How to Take the News to Young People

By: Amarah Ennis | 04/02/2024

Young people consume news coverage differently than older generations. Having grown up on social media, they are more likely to turn to social media platforms such as TikTok and Instagram for their news.  

“I believe one of the key demographics that is critical in the new dynamics are young people, everywhere in the world,” said Hannah Ajakaiye, the head of FactsMatterNG and a former ICFJ Knight fellow, during an Empowering the Truth Global Summit session. “The news experience for young people is quite different, and the population that you usually depend on for the legacy media formats of television or radio is declining.”

Here’s more advice from Ajakaiye on how journalists can effectively connect with younger audiences today, and supply them with reliable news. 

 


 

Adopt design thinking

Design thinking is a business ideology defined by solution-based, user-focused problem solving. News organizations should incorporate design thinking into the way they create and package their reporting, proposed Ajakaiye. She encouraged journalists and news organizations to view their coverage as a product that they can sell.

“Most times we have our style, we have the traditional way that we've been doing our reporting. And we just assume, since we've been doing it this way, this is how people should engage with this content,” said Ajakaiye. “But times are different.” 

Information about audience trends can be incredibly useful when taking a design thinking approach. Consider that many young people may “digitally simultask” – do multiple things at once on their devices, like listen to music while scrolling through social media. Insights like this might motivate you to create a news podcast that people can listen to while they carry out other tasks.

When it comes to design thinking, ask yourself: “Who [are you] selling this to? Are you sure you’re serving them the way they want to engage with the products?” said Ajakaiye.
 

Consider the “ideal news experience”

The Next Gen News report, published in 2023, studied the gap between what young people wanted and what they were getting from their news. Based on their findings, researchers created a three-tiered framework for the modern consumer’s “ideal news experience.”

First, trusted sources: Young audiences want to get their news from people with first-hand experience who they can relate to, and who are transparent about their biases.

"One of the ways that fact-checking organizations like Politifact get their audience to trust them is to be transparent about their intention [and] funding sources,” said Ajakaiye. “Especially for young people, they want organizations and people to be transparent about issues of conflict of interest, their agenda, their bias.”

Second, personal significance: Young news consumers want to learn about topics and issues they’re interested in, and they want to be able to do something about the problems presented. Solutions journalism is a popular news genre for young adults, who tend to be less happy than their parents and grandparents.

“There's some news fatigue. People are tired of hearing sad news, especially younger people. So why don't we approach content production from the aspect of solutions journalism?” said Ajakaiye.

Third, desired storytelling: Young people want news that’s personalized, easy to understand, and convenient. They gravitate toward short-form content with visual and graphic elements, but like to be given the option to dive deeper into a story if they wish. Some news outlets, like Britain’s TLDR News and India’s inshorts, offer multiple formats for their readers, producing bite-sized videos or written stories as companions to longer pieces.

Recruit influencers

Online celebrities who go viral when sharing mis- and disinformation can be a major pain for news organizations. But partnering with creators who align with your mission can amplify and spread the truth just as quickly.

“In Nigeria, many of the influencers have more followers than the fact-checking organizations. They're able to reach more people than some of the media platforms,” said Ajakaiye. “They are people that you can't ignore, because many people are getting their news and information from influencers. They follow them and they trust them.”

Ajakaiye’s organization, FactsMatterNG, and its partners have collaborated with Nigerian influencers to spread news and encourage personal fact-checking. By partnering with these creators, they were able to fight back against misinformation in the country, while also promoting their organization to audiences they may never have reached through traditional means.

“People usually have reservations about using influencers,” said Ajakaiye. “But we are no longer the only gatekeepers in this profession. We need to start looking at creating conversations so that we are leading the agenda.”

Newsrooms can also encourage their journalists to interact with audiences directly, like influencers do. If viewers can put a face to the news, they will be more likely to connect with the journalist and trust the information shared.

Use accessible language

Regardless of format, it’s important that the language you use is accessible to the younger generation. Young adults generally want their news to be “easy to understand, informal, and engaging” without being dumbed down. 

“If you deal with issues in policy and economy, present hard news in a format that is simple to assess and easy to digest,” said Ajakaiye. You don’t have to scatter slang or buzzwords into your articles to get clicks. Instead, provide context, explain complex terms, and include ways for readers to relate.

Even outside of younger demographics, many people read at a more basic level. Half of all Americans cannot read at an eighth grade level; one in six adults in England have “very poor literacy skills.” Whether you’re making news targeted specifically at young people or not, understandability is key. Tools like Hemingway can help you check the reading level of your content.

If you are living or working in a place where English is not a first language, said Ajakaiye, “you should also consider those communities, because most times those people are left out and underserved by the mainstream media.” FactsMatterNG, partnered with online creators like Abis Fulani and Frank Donga to produce content in Hausa and Yoruba, Nigeria’s most spoken local languages, in order to spread their message even further.

It’s a fast-paced, information-overloaded world, and the way people consume news is changing rapidly. In this media environment, there are three important questions journalists should regularly ask themselves, said Ajakaiye: “What do you need to start doing? What do you need to stop doing? What do you need to change in the content strategy that you have?” 

By asking these questions, journalists and newsrooms can take important steps to better reach critical audiences, including young people.

Disarming Disinformation is run by ICFJ with lead funding from the Scripps Howard Foundation, an affiliated organization with the Scripps Howard Fund, which supports The E.W. Scripps Company’s charitable efforts. The three-year project will empower journalists and journalism students to fight disinformation in the news media.

Photo by Mikhail Nilov via Pexels.

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