“The youth of today are not interested in the news” is a common belief among older media types. But research that Jos Kuper and Lauren Shapiro of Kuper Research did for presentation at a recent Wits Journalism Colloquium on the Future of News among the youth, suggests that this is not the case. What they found was that the youth are actually consuming more news these days, but are accessing it through a variety of platforms and with interesting social consequences for themselves.
It’s a common refrain among media people that young people no longer read newspapers – or much else – and the Holy Grail everyone is seeking is to find a way to entice the youth to read, and buy, papers.
This research sheds some light amidst the doom and gloom that often accompanies discussions about the future of newspapers, amidst plummeting circulations. The takeaway for newspaper publishers is there is a hunger for news and they need to find new and innovative ways to feed it and leverage their content across the different media platforms where this market is active.
While small scale survey and video interviews with young people aged 18-25 for the Wits Future of News Colloquium is indicative rather than definitive because of its limited scale, it does tie in with findings in several pieces of international research. In SA we found that having a base of information about current events including politics, actually secures our young people’s sense of their value in their social group.
Interactivity is the name of the game in terms of what comes in and what goes out. The mobile generation is using the news in a more ‘fluid’ context – it flows in to them via social media like Twitter and Facebook, online, news alerts, radio, news posters and emails to name some of them. And it flows out again in many of the same ways to others in their social or work circles, but generally not before the sender has researched or interrogated the news item from multiple sources. This generation is not as credulous as prior generations who trusted a newspaper title for example – this one needs verification before they trust themselves to send the item of news on to others. Nor do they totally trust the social media – they are careful about what they say on the social media and have a healthy concern regarding the disclosure of their private information (source: the futurefact survey, based on a national sample but excluding deep rural communities of fewer than 500 people).
The fluid nature of news consumption is also evident in the US where the Pew Research Centre confirms that teens’ connections have gone from stationary to moving with them throughout the day. For many mobile means spending more time with news and enables the use of multiple sources of news so that their repertoire keeps growing. In our small scale survey for Wits we found that over a half of those who access news digitally say they are consuming a lot more news than previously since they have electronic access to news platforms.
futurefact 2013 shows that 63% of 16 – 34 year olds have a smartphone compared to 44% in the 2012 survey. This has enabled their real mobility in terms of internet access as they no longer have the need to be at an internet café or work or school to have access. But mobile also ensures they can check multiple sources and make up their own minds as to the validity or interest value of the news item before passing it on.
While the demise of the traditional printed version of newspapers is evident for the youth, the entrenchment of radio, another traditional medium, in the lives of the young mobile generation is palpable. The survey reveals 50% of 18 to 35s actually listen to radio on their cell phones (and also when commuting). Radio appears to serve as a prompt to a piece of news in much the same way as do the social media and news posters and in fact aggregated news sites tend to serve the same purpose. It is worth pursuing the thought that digitally, newspaper titles would have to ensure they become the ‘primary second’ source. The aggregated site and/or radio bulletin will probably be the initial source but if a title takes a breaking story deeper using devices that succinctly provide background, the issues for debate, and interrogation of the news item by trusted commentators, the title could well become the default subsequent ‘go to’ source.
Interestingly there is some pressure on TV as a primary news source though it is still a useful entertainment platform for them, whether on a big or small screen. Noteworthy is that reading the news is still a primary behavioural practice – but the printed version is unlikely to be the platform of choice. At this stage of their lives young people are also unlikely to shell out cash for subscribing to digital news platforms, but there is an acknowledgement that if their particular spheres of interest are catered to specifically, they may well subscribe if it is affordable and not available for free elsewhere.
In the Wits survey the young folk were asked what the news does for them personally. A fascinating range of reasons emerged from the usual one of a need to be informed, to the belief that it equips them to engage in discussions with their peers which then feeds their need to be connected and entrenches their sense of belonging to a social group. The political playing field is a ready source of interesting material – and futurefact shows a significant level of voting intention (over 80%) among 18-35 year olds, with 26% as yet undecided about which party to vote for. Over 60% believe their vote can definitely make a difference and a similar proportion feels strongly that one can’t keep blaming the past for all the problems in SA today. They yearn for a strong leader to emerge to restore order and discipline and feel that the country’s president should be elected by the people, rather than chosen by the winning political party.
The youth could arguably be called the C generation (with apologies to YouTube who coined the phrase while using it in a different context). Young people have a commitment to and need of news that they actively pursue; they are curators of news elements via a variety of sources; they create their own NIBs (News in Briefs) or post links; they have constant connectivity to news feeds; and naturally this includes constant connectivity to social networks. It is not a big stretch then to assume that news and its dissemination is critical for their sense of identity and community. This is good news for those publishers who get it.