The young are restless when it comes to their news habits and preferences. Under-30 audiences prefer broad content and lighter tone. They are less likely to be loyal to news brands and more likely to consume news from a variety of media formats and platforms. While myriad preferences can be challenging for news purveyors, they also create new opportunities in the form of side-doors.
These observations stem from The Kaleidoscope report on research performed with 72 people aged 18–30 in Brazil, the UK, and the U.S. by market research agency Craft for Reuters Institute. This qualitative research adds specificity and texture to the wider statistical research leased earlier this year in Reuters’ 2022 Digital News Report.
News versus “the news”
Young people make a distinction between what they consider “news” – which includes a variety of lighter topics such as sports, arts, culture, and celebrity gossip covered by a variety of platforms and brands – from what they consider “the news,” which is comprised of weightier topics such as international affairs and “need to know” information more likely to be covered by mainstream media.
Emerging from The Kaleidoscope data are three types of news consumers among those aged 30 and under:
- Hobbyist/dutiful users seek news for entertainment or out of a sense of duty to stay informed and contribute to civic conversation. They appreciate more frequent updates on news stories, engage on a deeper level, and seek news from a broader variety of brands.
- Main eventers tune in for practical “need to know” stories and developments that impact their daily lives. They use a combination of mainstream and newer brands.
- Disengaged people typically avoid ‘the news’ but are sometimes motivated by FOMO (fear of missing out) and the need to be aware of big stories that might come up in conversation or impact their lives. These users are often late to a story and seek quick summaries and explanations to catch up. They are more likely to turn to mainstream brands or use popular search engines.
Skepticism and news avoidance
A lack of trust in the motives behind news stories was cited by many of the 30-and-under participants in The Kaleidoscope study. They expressed weariness with depressing topics such as the pandemic and political polarization, and topics that seem to drag on without resolution. The following were often cited as reasons for avoiding the news:
- It’s upsetting. Younger audiences report an interest in more mood-elevating and entertaining content.
- It’s repetitive. Many under 30 report tiring of repetitious coverage of major topics, citing a preference for more variety of news stories, with a broader definition of news, including “softer” news topics such as culture and the arts, education, sports, and celebrity coverage.
- They don’t trust it. The skeptical comments of young people in the qualitative study aligned with statistical findings of Reuter’s 2022 Digital News Report, which found that only about a third (37%) of people under 35 say they trust most news most of the time, compared with nearly half of those 55 and older (47%).
What DO younger audiences want from news?
- More variety in media formats
- More diverse voices and opinions
- News tailored to their personal interests
- More “softer” stories to balance the serious ones
- Formats that enable participation through commenting and sharing
Study participants cited content tailored to personal interests as a prime reason for preferring social media to television news. However, they were also aware of how the filter bubbles and algorithms of social media feeds were likely to support bias.
Text and traditional media still matter
The Russian invasion of Ukraine began during the study period, enabling researchers to examine how participants reacted to a major developing news story. Participants responded to the magnitude of this event with greater attention to mainstream media, live and on-the-ground coverage.
Although younger audiences often engage with multimedia and video content, most still report a preference for reading news rather than watching it. Some cited the privacy factor of reading in public and described reading news as more “professional” and “serious” than watching video or television.
These findings again align with Reuters’ 2022 Digital News Report, which found that while under-35’s have a strong inclination towards video content, 58% claim to prefer to mostly read news. Only 15% reported a preference for watching news, especially when seeking live updates and summaries on a need-to-know basis.
Authors of The Kaleidoscope report suggest using content more in tune with contemporary internet culture. This might include:
- Use of emergent platforms, and an understanding of codes and conventions therein.
- Recruiting talent knowledgeable in the content and vibe of emergent platforms.
- Creating new brands or sub-brands to engage younger audiences, while retaining the credibility of mainstream brands.
While variety in media and content is paramount to under-30 audiences, younger people still rely on traditional sources when they think it matters most. Therefore, maintaining mainstream options while developing novel offerings may be the best approach.