No, news publishers shouldn’t be considering skipping the Millennial generation

Yesterday INMA published an article entitled ‘Instead of courting Millennials, should news media skip this generation?‘, to which the answer, categorically, is no.

The article predicts, somehow, that the generation isn’t “fully grown” and that “Tumblr, Snapchat, Imgur, and a slew of other words missing vowels are still their thing”, implying that eventually the Millennial generation will grow up and get back to valuing serious mediums. Consequently, argues Maria Terrell, maybe publishers shouldn’t be changing their platform strategy to reach these people – eventually they’ll give up these youthful foibles and change to fit publishers’ priorities, rather than the other way round.

To the article’s credit it does eventually come down on the side of distributed publishing, stating that if publishers want to appeal to the Millennial generation it needs to publish high-quality content “where, when, and how Millennials want it”. But the implication throughout the article is that the generation so coveted by publishers desperate for new audiences need to change and mature, to become fully paid-up members of society with an interest in the sort of content publishers put out. 

The problem with that – other than the broad generalisations – is that Millennials are already interested in quality news, and not just because of an increased awareness of misinformation spread on social networks as the article suggests. As the Reuters Institute’s latest Digital News Report makes clear, the new batch of ‘second wave publishers’ have a strong Millennial focus, and most are continuing to invest in their newsrooms as much as their commercial side. That wouldn’t be a priority unless young people of that generation had a hunger for news content.

There are two uncontested differences in how Millennials engage with news content, however: How they seek it out and how likely they are to pay for it. 

The Reuters Institute’s Digital News Report makes it clear the extent to which young people are habituated to receiving news on their vowel-less social platforms:

“Of the 18-to-24-year-olds surveyed, 28% cited social media as their main news source, compared with 24% for TV. The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism research also suggests 51% of people with online access use social media as a news source.”

And Zenith estimate that fully 26 percent of all media consumption will take place on mobile by 2019. That’s why the BBC – among many, many others – is making mobile-first delivery of news a priority. They know which side their bread’s buttered, after all. Its latest trial, the Newsbeat Explains trial of ‘atomised news’, has just ended, with some fairly telling results:

“Feedback from the controlled user study gave us a clearer indication that they liked this format. It seems to fit well with our audiences consumption patterns as a mobile-first proposition.

“This phase of our research gave us sufficient information to continue our work on the future of BBC News articles using the concept of atomised content. We will build on our what we learned so far and continue identifying ways news stories can be created and delivered to our wider audiences enabling new, adaptive experiences.”

All of which is to say that young people and Millennials in particular are absolutely interested in news content, except on video, for whatever reason. It doesn’t matter what format that takes (and it’s always been a bugbear of mine that only the written word, usually in print, is held up as ‘proper’ journalism), it’s all news content, and the ready engagement Millennials have with news on mobile proves that the generation doesn’t have to ‘mature’ to fully appreciate it.

The impression that Millennials don’t care about news is also partly created by a text-centric mindset at traditional publishers (which as Ben Thompson notes is actually directly and illogically tied to how people value news content), with text being a format that isn’t necessarily how people choose to consume news on mobile devices.

That, in turn, has led to the idea that Millennials aren’t interested in news because they don’t pay for news, which isn’t quite true. According to the Media Insight Project, 70 percent of adults aged 65 or over pay for at least one print product, while that number falls by age demographic, until only 46 percent of those aged 18-34 pay for a print product.

And while if you squint that might look like people become more likely to pay for print as they age and thus that Millennials will grow into valuing news, the reality is that these are attitudinal differences based on habits created by access to mobile devices. However, the report does note that overall the data runs counter to the idea that it is only the older generation who is likely to pay for news…:

“Indeed, many adults of all ages, races, education levels, and political affiliations pay for a news source. In all, as noted above, close to 4 in 10 of the youngest adults age 18 to 34 in America (37 percent) say they pay for news sources of some kind. Of those, 46 percent pay for a newspaper subscription.”

… but concludes that “in other words, any forward looking subscription strategy has to lean more digital, even if the current subscriber base is in print.”

So, Millennials and news. In as much as the term ‘Millennial’ means anything, they’re engaged with news across many more platforms due to widespread mobile adoption, and if there’s a failure to monetise them it’s on the publishers’ side as a result of slow adjustments to digital publishing. Publishers simply can’t afford to wait until Millennials ‘come around’ to more traditional means of news distribution – they need to be out and actively experimenting on as many platforms as possible.

Image courtesy of Dean McCoy via Flickr used under a Creative Commons license.

By |2017-06-01T00:01:00+00:00June 1st, 2017|Analysis|Comments Off on No, news publishers shouldn’t be considering skipping the Millennial generation

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