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How hyper-local news can win back young audiences

Rebuilding a connection with young audiences and the news demands a fresh approach – one that bridges the gap and fosters genuine connection

July 10, 2024 | By Richard E. Brown, Media Revenue Consultant@richardebrown17Connect on

The data is clear: a chasm exists between what traditional news offers and what younger audiences crave. Decades of research haven’t bridged this gap, and proposed solutions often fall short. Blumler and McQuail’s (1970) Need for Gratification Theory suggests people use media to fulfill specific desires. You do have to wonder if the problem a mismatch in needs. Perhaps traditional news fails to satisfy younger generations’ hunger for in-depth analysis or a more positive outlook, driving them to seek information elsewhere. This disconnect demands a fresh approach – one that bridges the gap and fosters genuine connection.

A Spring 2023 Harvard Youth Poll reveals that young Americans prioritize economic concerns like inflation, healthcare, housing, and job availability, alongside social justice and environmental issues like reproductive rights, climate change, and immigration. This focus mirrors global trends. However, traditional media coverage often falls short on these topics. The rise of “alternative platforms” and the demand for short, relatable, and authentic content signals a broader shift in news consumption. Furthermore, Gen X’s declining interest and the perception of traditional media content as distant, pedantic, and delivered on outdated platforms underscore the need to completely rethink how we deliver news.

Despite the challenges, a bright future awaits news media built on growth and audience engagement. The key lies in a shift towards hyper-local coverage. This doesn’t mean abandoning national and global news. Rather, it means prioritizing content that resonates with the local audience. Imagine relatable journalists delivering stories on local issues through engaging formats like social media posts, listicles, explainers, and high-quality video content. This focus has demonstrably built loyal readership and increased audience size for news organizations around the country.

A decline in news interest among Gen X and Millennials, as reported by the Pew Research Center, and a growing preference for authenticity in news presenters, according to Reuters 2022 Digital News Report, paint a clear picture of the current news consumption landscape. Addressing these audience preferences and tailoring content to local issues can foster greater trust and engagement with news media.

The solution seems straightforward: connect the dots between state or regional events and their impact on local communities. However doing this effectively is harder than it seems. News outlets must transition from high-level reporting to a more responsible and objective approach. This means translating complex issues into clear, concise explanations that highlight the specific impact on people’s daily lives. For example, a national story on rising gas prices might be tailored locally to show how much transportation costs have increased in your city and how residents are coping.

Take, for instance, the Miami Herald’s recent spring climate change article on sea levels rising.  This article uses multimedia storytelling to explore the rising sea level’s impact on Miami, a city particularly vulnerable to coastal flooding. The article features data insights from local scientists and researchers and explains how climate change is affecting the city’s infrastructure and communities. By connecting the global threat of climate change to the specific challenges faced by Miami, this article highlights the urgency of addressing sea level rise. This focus on local impacts can potentially empower younger audiences to engage with the issue in their city, and “actionability” is something that is particularly resonant with this group.

As we navigate the evolving media landscape and changing news consumption habits, traditional media must redefine its role. It should not only inform, but also serve as a vital resource for today’s and tomorrow’s generations. This shift is crucial for both local and national news outlets as they strive to bridge the generational gap and earn trust.

Younger audiences increasingly seek news that offers practical and useful information for their daily lives. This demand highlights the need for journalism to evolve beyond reporting. News organizations must provide guidance and resources on various topics, offering actionable insights that empower readers.

The challenge lies in transforming news into actionable resources that not only inform but also empower and engage audiences. Organizations like NPR have shown the way by expanding their coverage to include comprehensive guides and interactive tools on topics like financial planning and mental health resources. These resources equip readers to make informed decisions and take meaningful action based on factual reporting.

By providing practical resources alongside factual reporting, news organizations can empower readers with deeper understanding and the tools they need to take action. This ensures content remains informative while upholding journalistic integrity. In an era where accessible knowledge and meaningful impact are highly valued, this approach fosters informed decision-making and strengthens audience engagement.

Embracing hyper-local coverage and authentic storytelling will enable news organizations to bridge the chasm that separates them from Gen X and Millennials. Focusing on issues that directly impact these audiences’ daily lives fosters a sense of relevance and connection. Authentic voices, relatable formats, and clear explanations that empower readers with actionable insights will cultivate trust and engagement. This also translates to a more valuable audience for advertisers, potentially leading to increased revenue streams.

In essence, a focus on local issues and a commitment to genuine storytelling that makes issues personally relevant represents a strategic investment in the future of news. By prioritizing content that resonates with younger generations, news organizations can not only ensure their long-term sustainability but also cultivate a more engaged and informed citizenry. A future where news is relevant, sustainable, and fosters meaningful connections between audiences and journalists is entirely within reach.

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