- Use Road Signs and Context
- Offer Wisdom Journalism
- Rethink News Site Design
- Experiment with New Formats
- Expand Civic Journalism and Community Coverage
- Put Young People in News
- Reinvent, Expand News-in-Schools and News Literacy Programs
- Improve Sharing Features and Create Self-Supporting Content
- Explore New Approaches to Television News
Young people are the most important audience for the future of journalism, for obvious reasons. Most young people are interested in the world around them and interested in keeping up with community, national and international issues. Yet this generation is not nearly as engaged with the news media as it could be. There are powerful—and in most cases relatively easy—steps news organizations at every level can take to engage young audiences and achieve impact, profitability and journalistic excellence while doing so.
Some of these ideas are new and some are decades old. Many have been tried by a few outlets or in small experiments but have yet to be scaled across the news industry. Each has the potential to engage young audiences and improve news media for the digital era. Here are 10 strategies, based on the analysis contained in the full Younger Thinking report, for improving the news for young people.
Most news content, particularly on “serious” topics, is designed for a level of background knowledge, experience and consistent news use that many young people do not have. News outlets also offer few of what the Readership Institute calls “road signs” to help consumers learn what a story means and to answer questions about key players, their motivations and the implications of the topic. The Internet offers effective ways to provide more “road signs” to help readers place a piece of content into a larger context—but this can also be achieved on television and in print. More
Young people would also benefit from a more active, interpretive approach to journalism, sometimes called “wisdom journalism.” Knowledgeable journalists with a background in their subject matter could offer readers insight into what events really mean and break through the superficial he-said/she-said balance that dominates coverage of serious topics. This methodology acts on the idea that, in many news situations, it is better to be helpful and explanatory than it is to be first. More
There’s a Netflix for movies and an Amazon for shopping, but no similar experience for news. Why not? Many young people are already personalizing their news independently through home pages and social networks. Building smart, adaptive personalization features in news sites increases engagement and desire to return, improves understanding and navigability, makes old content useful and, for those concerned about revenue, offers a compelling way to charge for access. To preserve a sense of community in presentation, outlets can combine personalized recommendations with content editors feel is important. More
Many young people express feelings of “too much information” in online news, finding sites overwhelmingly full of content choices and difficult to navigate. Most news sites do a poor job of creating an experience that helps users organize content into manageable layers. Sites should: be simple; have lots of white space; clearly indicate which content is most important or most popular; and guide users seamlessly from one piece of content to related information or the “next” article. No one should ever wonder, “where do I go next?” Several studies discussed in the full report have suggested removing the lists of headlines that are common online, eliminating ‘feature’ boxes that clutter the page, improving search tools and making background information easily available. More
The traditional story-and-photo approach to news coverage may no longer be the best way to present the news. This is particularly true for young audiences given what we know about how they consume news. News organizations should experiment with new ways of presenting their information. Perhaps the most compelling idea is to use wikis to host all the content related to a particular topic or ongoing story, allowing journalists and users to combine new updates with background and related content.More
Surveys continue to find that young people want to see more coverage of community, local and state issues in the news. News outlets can tap this interest and build community loyalty in the process by playing a more active role: combining serious, relevant reporting about local issues with hosting events and forums, engaging and sponsoring student-produced news, asking for input and content production from outside sources (such as journalism students), and so on. The idea of “civic journalism” is not new, but this generation of young people appear uniquely ready to support and benefit from it. More
As other subgroups and minorities do, young people report feeling misunderstood or maligned by most media coverage of them and of issues that affect them. Many mainstream outlets report on these topics (education, cultural changes, technology, etc.) with an outsider’s perspective that is at best uninteresting and at worst patronizing to young audiences. News organizations should feature more young people in interviews and as commentators. They should also hire more young people as content creators: as writers, bloggers, television hosts, editors. Young people don’t need to see young faces to pay attention, but when done tastefully and in moderation adding a youthful touch to news content can make it infinitely more appealing. More
News organizations and schools are natural partners, both in providing news to classrooms and in sponsoring student journalism projects. Yet most news-in-schools programs focus on the print edition of the paper when data indicate teachers and students both prefer the online edition. Local newspapers lag behind national outlets in developing strong school programs, and classroom surveys reflect this. Strong programs such as the New York Times’ Learning Network are easy-to-use and popular, and they foster future customers and supporters of journalism in America’s classrooms. News institutions, particularly local ones, that do not have engaging online education tools should develop them.
News literacy programs offer a similar opportunity: training young people to appreciate the value, ethics, processes and approach of journalism and to navigate the immense world of journalism content. These programs are far too rare in America’s public schools. Vanguard initiatives such as theNews Literacy Project deserve attention and expansion. More
This idea is already well-known, but its importance cannot be overstated. Young people get a great deal (for some, all) of their news socially from friends, family, conversations and social networks. Though news organizations are increasingly aware of this trend, on-site sharing features are frequently cumbersome or difficult to locate, and too many news organizations maintain one-way social network presences that simply broadcast content rather than engaging audiences in a two-way conversation. Content should also be designed to thrive and attract attention in an environment where many people arrive directly at specific pieces of content rather that at news organizations’ home pages. More
The network evening newscast is not a popular news platform among young people, and its market share will continue to decrease in the years ahead. Though cable news is much more popular, it too is losing ground to the Internet and will continue to. Television news is generally less dense than printed or online content per minute spent by consumers, and cable news is plagued by well-known problems. Yet it remains a powerful medium thanks to its visual strength and nearly universal penetration. Television outlets should focus on online content production and select particular topics to highlight in-depth on-air. Current.tv is an encouraging but limited example of this idea in action.