Key Takeaway: Traditional news companies are failing to connect with Gen Z consumers, a report on journalism found. These organizations should look to social media platforms for successful approaches to engaging young viewers.

Old Gray Lady, meet Instagram. 

If old guard news companies want Gen Z readers, and to cultivate a new base of users, they’re going to have to start thinking like them, according to a report commissioned by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism.

“How Young People Consume News and the Implications for Mainstream Media” found that media organizations will need to make the experience feel as accessible as Facebook or Netflix, create formats that are native to mobile and social platforms, and change the way they deliver the news.

“Young people are primarily driven by progress and enjoyment in their lives, and this translates into what they look for in news,” the report said. 

Researchers from the U.K.-based media consultant Flamingo, which conducted the survey, considered how mainstream news sites can compete with social media platforms like Reddit and Twitter. Those websites have increasingly become go-to sources for news and information.

Researchers tracked the phone data of 20 under-35 individuals across the U.K. and U.S. and interviewed most of them. The report found that traditional brands see the news as “what you should know” while young audiences take a broader perspective, looking for “what is useful to know, what is interesting to know, and what is fun to know.” Engaging with these readers will require “a relentless focus” on their needs “but also a deep understanding of the motivations that underpin behavior.”

The results dovetail with a 2016 report by the Pew Research Center that found that four in five Americans get their news at least sometimes from social media. Reddit, the world’s seventh-highest trafficked site, was the most popular source of news.

Connecting on Social Media Apps

The Flamingo report suggested that because young people spend so much time on their mobile devices engaging with social media apps, news organizations will have to reach them there or create new services to lure them away.

The report found that Instagram was the primary app on nearly all survey participants’ phones and clocked the most daily usage. Snapchat, YouTube and Netflix were also popular. Reaching readers during their “time filler” moments presents a“key opportunity, if done right,” the report said.

News apps are almost irrelevant for a generation that grew up with cell phones, the report also found. It suggested that creating a single funnel for news and entertainment and encouraging active participation with news content would engage younger audiences. Reddit has connected with readers by enabling them to vote for their favorite content and promoting communities of people with similar interests. 

“If they are already on social media or podcasts for entertainment and socializing, then it instantly becomes convenient to access news there too,” the report said. 

Less Appealing to Advertisers

The report found that media companies have been unable to entice readers to articles, videos and other online content without clicking to another site. This failing has made news sites less appealing to advertisers and hurts their bottom line. 

The report suggested that news sites consider subscription models. Leading newspapers, including The New York Times, Financial Times and The Wall Street Journal, have generated revenue by placing their best work behind paywalls. The Athletic, a sports publication averages $64 in revenue a year for each of its more than 500,000 readers. The site told Bloomberg that it is close to profitable

To be sure, many readers don’t want to pay for content. But the report found that many readers are willing to pay for quality work that isn’t available elsewhere and that they develop brand loyalty for sites that help and entertain them. It also found that some readers are willing to pay for information related to their career goals. 

In addition, the report found that some media companies might consider offering pay-per-article services or enable readers to subscribe for coverage on certain days or for particular topics, such as business news. 

The report also suggested that media companies improve their ability to reach younger generations on their mobile devices by providing faster access to news and presenting coverage in ways that are more entertaining, educational and relevant to younger people. A 2015 study by Nielsen showed that 90% of teens watch videos on their phones and only 29% access the internet via desktop computer.

The report offered no easy solutions to media companies inability to reach younger audiences. Newspaper readership is down 8% weekdays and 9% on Sundays, according to a 2019 Pew Research Center survey. But for media-focused entrepreneurs, the challenging landscape may also offer opportunities.