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Make better products if you want to reach Gen Z

“If news organizations can’t commit to hiring young people to tell their own stories, they at the very least should productize content in a way that appeals to Gen Z.”

I have to come clean: The number of times I’ve asked Gen Z’ers to show me what they do on their phones and how they interface with the information they’re after borderlines on the obsessive.

I want to crack the code for how news organizations can capture the attention and loyalty of a generation they’ll soon depend on to remain relevant and financially viable. Gen Z is entering the job market and in the U.S. alone has direct spending power in the tens of billions.

As news organizations try to make sense of how to best reach Gen Z’ers, two factors come into play. First, content coverage needs to appeal to young people — and “not by interviewing them or telling their stories,” as wrote Amy King in her 2019 Nieman Lab prediction, “but by letting them tell their stories themselves. What would be really great is if an established, legacy newsroom hired 15 23-year-olds to run a vertical of their own.”

Legacy newsrooms have taken King’s idea (somewhat) under consideration. Vox, which recently acquired New York Media, has Terry Nguyễn on-staff. She’s a Gen Zer and a reporter for The Goods, covering a content vertical of direct interest to Gen Z — product discovery and research.

She also created and runs the newsletter Gen Yeet. The most recent issue predicted that “the media will considerably shorten the lifetime of a meme. Outlets are hiring reporters for positions like digital teen culture reporter as the NYT, NBC News, CNN, or whatever are battling to scoop the next Big Meme. ‘Ok boomer’ represents the beginning of the end for snarky generational clapbacks.” (I recently saw one of these job postings on LinkedIn. Business Insider is hiring a “Teen Culture Reporter,” who will likely not be a teen.)

But if news organizations can’t commit to hiring young people to tell their own stories, they at the very least should productize content in a way that appeals to Gen Z.

Because news flash: News is a product! News products need to mirror the appeal of social media products to satisfy Gen Z. And currently, news apps aren’t cutting it.

A recent report by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism dug deep into the news and information habits of young people (20 people, ages 18-35, equally split between the U.S. and the U.K.). It found that:

on those 20 young people’s phones, Instagram was the primary app…News apps, by comparison, received much less usage. Apple News is pre-installed on iPhones, which helps account for its relative prominence here — but no news app (with the exception of Reddit) was within the top 25 apps used by respondents…

So what are some product-first solutions for news organizations?

  • Establish a strong Instagram account. Even if a news org’s content is behind a paywall, their Instagram account isn’t. This gives Gen Z consumers, often unwilling to pay for a subscription if they can’t try before they buy, an opportunity to engage with a news org’s content and become familiar with the brand. Content should be product-fluid, like this New York Times story which succeeds on and off platform.
  • Content needs to be visual-first, and predominantly video-first. We know Gen Z prefers to get its news and information from visual-first social media products like TikTok, YouTube, and Snapchat. News-related video content should find similarly creative ways to include text in their videos, from closed captioning to this TikTok text trend.
  • Incite (easy) engagement. Let readers give articles a “like” — the action mirrors hearting an Instagram post, up-voting on Reddit, or thumbing up (or down) on YouTube. These actions are all natural reflexes for social-first Gen Zers interacting with content.
  • Consider alternate platforms for content output, like text message newsletters. A Gen Z-targeted and run news product, The Cramm, comes in the form of a short-but-sweet daily newsletter via email or text message. Email is free and text is 99 cents a month. Note: If a Gen Zer set the price, then you know it’s what she and her peers are willing to pay for news content!

Nico Gendron is program manager for the Instagram Local News Fellowship.

I have to come clean: The number of times I’ve asked Gen Z’ers to show me what they do on their phones and how they interface with the information they’re after borderlines on the obsessive.

I want to crack the code for how news organizations can capture the attention and loyalty of a generation they’ll soon depend on to remain relevant and financially viable. Gen Z is entering the job market and in the U.S. alone has direct spending power in the tens of billions.

As news organizations try to make sense of how to best reach Gen Z’ers, two factors come into play. First, content coverage needs to appeal to young people — and “not by interviewing them or telling their stories,” as wrote Amy King in her 2019 Nieman Lab prediction, “but by letting them tell their stories themselves. What would be really great is if an established, legacy newsroom hired 15 23-year-olds to run a vertical of their own.”

Legacy newsrooms have taken King’s idea (somewhat) under consideration. Vox, which recently acquired New York Media, has Terry Nguyễn on-staff. She’s a Gen Zer and a reporter for The Goods, covering a content vertical of direct interest to Gen Z — product discovery and research.

She also created and runs the newsletter Gen Yeet. The most recent issue predicted that “the media will considerably shorten the lifetime of a meme. Outlets are hiring reporters for positions like digital teen culture reporter as the NYT, NBC News, CNN, or whatever are battling to scoop the next Big Meme. ‘Ok boomer’ represents the beginning of the end for snarky generational clapbacks.” (I recently saw one of these job postings on LinkedIn. Business Insider is hiring a “Teen Culture Reporter,” who will likely not be a teen.)

But if news organizations can’t commit to hiring young people to tell their own stories, they at the very least should productize content in a way that appeals to Gen Z.

Because news flash: News is a product! News products need to mirror the appeal of social media products to satisfy Gen Z. And currently, news apps aren’t cutting it.

A recent report by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism dug deep into the news and information habits of young people (20 people, ages 18-35, equally split between the U.S. and the U.K.). It found that:

on those 20 young people’s phones, Instagram was the primary app…News apps, by comparison, received much less usage. Apple News is pre-installed on iPhones, which helps account for its relative prominence here — but no news app (with the exception of Reddit) was within the top 25 apps used by respondents…

So what are some product-first solutions for news organizations?

  • Establish a strong Instagram account. Even if a news org’s content is behind a paywall, their Instagram account isn’t. This gives Gen Z consumers, often unwilling to pay for a subscription if they can’t try before they buy, an opportunity to engage with a news org’s content and become familiar with the brand. Content should be product-fluid, like this New York Times story which succeeds on and off platform.
  • Content needs to be visual-first, and predominantly video-first. We know Gen Z prefers to get its news and information from visual-first social media products like TikTok, YouTube, and Snapchat. News-related video content should find similarly creative ways to include text in their videos, from closed captioning to this TikTok text trend.
  • Incite (easy) engagement. Let readers give articles a “like” — the action mirrors hearting an Instagram post, up-voting on Reddit, or thumbing up (or down) on YouTube. These actions are all natural reflexes for social-first Gen Zers interacting with content.
  • Consider alternate platforms for content output, like text message newsletters. A Gen Z-targeted and run news product, The Cramm, comes in the form of a short-but-sweet daily newsletter via email or text message. Email is free and text is 99 cents a month. Note: If a Gen Zer set the price, then you know it’s what she and her peers are willing to pay for news content!

Nico Gendron is program manager for the Instagram Local News Fellowship.

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