HBM Advisory’s Alan Hunter explains how the different generations aren’t as dissimilar as we think. Yes, we might want news delivered in different formats, but in the final analysis, there is a common thread: we all want relevance, context and authenticity. Media groups take note.
My name is Alan and I’m a Gen Zer.
That’s a lie. Of course I’m not. The clue is in my name. In Britain, where I live, no newborn has been called Alan since about 1976.
However, attending the recent INMA Media Innovation Week in Antwerp, a presentation got me thinking that perhaps there’s not so much difference between me and my kids’ generation – at least in terms of what we want from news providers.
Jessica Bulthé from the data science team at Mediahuis, the ever-acquisitive Belgian media group, gave an excellent talk about Gen Z and how news organisations are really struggling to reach them.
This is an age group that is not unwilling to pay for things online – 75% pay for streaming services themselves, not just piggy-backing on their parents – but they don’t want to pay for news, she explained.
Not only are they not paying for it but 41% say they are actively avoiding it.
Why? Well, here is where I have a lot in common with the Zers, and audience data from publishers suggests a lot of their readers do too.
The Zers are put off journalism because it is “too negative”. I don’t blame them. Looking at my many news apps, from my new vantage point as a non-practising journalist, I am struck every day by what a downer it is, a succession of scandals, deaths, accidents, calls to “stop this” or “ban that”. Mostly, you know what’s happened by reading the headline and it takes a huge mental effort to convince yourself to dig into the details.
The Zers also want “news that is relevant to me”, said Bulthé. I want this too.
So much of what is served up by publishers comes from the perspective of a news desk, where every fine detail of a story is examined to death.
As a recovering newshound, I know where they are coming from – it’s all about “beating the competition” and “having a fresh line”. But this is emphatically not what normal readers want.
Speak to them, as I do as part of my job, and you’ll find they want perspective, the broader picture, solutions to the problems being described. These kinds of stories may not be the No 1 traffic drivers, but they win every single time for engagement.
I am convinced that if news editors paused for a moment to truly think about what the average woman or man on the street would want to know about a story before setting their reporters going, then we would have a very different journalism.
Another aspect of relevance that the Gen Zers talk about is wanting “context” to stories. This is something with which I am slightly obsessed.
My theory is that the basics of any news story are almost like oxygen these days – you absorb them from social media, from big screens, from a radio in the background, almost without thinking about it. In short, the facts are a commodity. It’s the analysis of them and ideas about what happens next that are the stuff of modern journalism.
Gen Zers are particularly plugged in to what just happened. They’ve already seen it on their phones – as, I would suggest, many of their equally smartphone-obsessed elders do. The trick is to give them – and us – an idea of the “how?” and the “why?” and not just the “what?”
They also, we were told, want “authenticity”. Who in these polarised times does not?
Gen Zers are apparently “44% more likely than older age groups to pay for niche journalism”. This is a curious stat, as all “more likely” ones are, but it’s also the case that niches are the coming area of journalism. Just look at the success of Politico, the Information and The Athletic.
The only area where I felt there was some difference with the Zers was their lifelong quest to “train algorithms” so that they received the best content on every platform. To be honest, I can’t be bothered with that, which might explain the state of my Twitter/X feed.
The general point stands though. We want the same things – maybe, it must be said, in different formats, but news organisations should not be thinking the Zers are aliens, nor that their traditional audiences are happy with what they are getting. We all want relevance, context and authenticity.
Right, I’m off to TikTok…
Co-Founder, HBM Advisory
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