By: Alok Verma
Young people are the most important audience for the future of news media, for several reasons. First and most obviously, they are the future consumers of the news industry (a fact nearly all businesses understand and on which many resources are spent). Second, news habits are formed early in life and they tend to persist over a generation’s lifespan, thereby current trends and actions taken now will have powerful effects in the decades ahead. Third, young people are “leading indicators” of new social and technological trends.
It is rather impossible to read or listen to a conversation about the current state of the news industry without hearing that “journalism is in crisis. Indeed, there is reason for concern: newspapers across the world are falling into either bankruptcy or facing major ethical issues to survive. India is still untouched as we still have to reach out to a large population that gets added every year to the band of literates. Television news stations are experiencing severe revenue share issues leading to crisis of survival. But the most predominant threat is being put up to “traditional” media outlets is by the unstoppable rise of the Internet; and journalists are facing jobs threat by the thousands, with no certain future for them or for the businesses that are existing in their current state.
Yet the crisis is not in the value of journalism, but rather in the business models that have supported it for decades and, in some cases, centuries. We care about whether young people (and all people, for that matter) consume the news because we care about the information and knowledge that news provides; quality and substance being equal, it does not matter from where citizens get it. Information, journalism and the institutions that provide it are and always will be three separate concerns.
The distinction between the institutions that have historically provided news, and the actual information itself, is important. The Internet and social networks can perform many of the functions of the 20th century newspaper, and are already doing so in many cases: classified ads, breaking news announcements, opinion and public comment. This has both benefits and dangers. It allows news institutions to shed or delegate responsibilities not related to their core news product; for example, Craigslist in America is a remarkably more efficient way to post and view classified ads than the pages of a daily newspaper. And similarly, the e-commerce organizations such as snapdeal.com; naukri.com, 99.acres.com, flipkart.com, shaadi.com, flickr.com are changing classified and display ads paradigm through user friendly ways in a big way posing a great threat to traditional way of classified advertising in newspapers.
Nonetheless, the argument that can be put forward in defence of traditional news media—professional reporters and journalists that they provide a public service of knowledge and information that cannot be easily reproduced elsewhere. However, assuming that all news institutions are doing an effective job of providing that service—far from it. Rather, I assume that, in a hypothetical world of journalistic excellence, there is inherent value in having and consuming independent, professional reportage about the world around us.
In a study of news habits it is also important to note that consuming “more” news is not always better. Reporting that one reads a newspaper every day for one hour says very little about the quality of that newspaper or the type of stories one is reading. This idea applies particularly to television news, which has a significantly lower information density than a newspaper— hence, the adage that the script of a 30-minute evening newscast could fit on the front page of The Times of India. Still, numerous studies have demonstrated a strong correlation between time spent with the news and “news knowledge,” the amount respondents knew about major news stories and the issues related to them. Thus while this study does not assume that increasing minutes of news consumption necessarily leads to more informed citizens, it does acknowledge a positive correlation and the inherent strengths of some platforms over others.
The pessimism frequently expressed about millennial’s news habits is largely unfounded. Young people are consuming news (though less frequently) and they are doing so in unique ways that will inform and shape the news industry for decades.
Young people are getting news, and they continue to express an awareness of and interest in a variety of social and political topics from community issues to foreign crises. Nonetheless, from the vantage point of many traditional media companies young people are seemingly absent: young people are considerably less likely to subscribe to a newspaper or newsmagazine than their elders, and spend fewer minutes on television news. Where they do get their news from needs to be understood. The reality is that this generation of young people is neither completely tuned in nor completely tuned out.
“Young people want to become informed about the election – but they don’t want to follow the news day-in and day-out. To them, there’s a big difference between the two– one that has real implications for news organizations. They are willing to spend time getting informed– exploring and learning more about public issues, candidates and races– but they want their news updates to be quick, very selective and prioritized.”
To, many observers and news producers there remains the question of whether young people are interested in (or willing to pay for) “serious accountability news” about government and public affairs. I believe that they are—or, more accurately, that they could be—but that changes in the way such news coverage is approached, packaged and presented are needed before this deeply important function of the news media can be connected with this generation’s interests.
Young people are, however, perfect examples of both the problem and the beginning of a solution. Understanding their relationship with and feelings about news are essential to understanding the way forward.
DOMINANCE OF TV & YOUNG PEOPLE
From its inception as a viable news format in the mid-1990s through the later part of the 2000s, television built a persistent dominance as the primary source of both national and local news for most Indians. Today television remains young people’s primary source of local news, and an equal source of information to the Internet for national and international news. Young people’s viewership of television news also follows the general trend that young people get news at less regular intervals than older generation, and spend less time watching when they do.
Most surveys of news consumption report similar data. Across all age groups, satellite news exceeds the cable network news as a primary source of news—particularly among young people. A viewer can be reasonably assured that watching a few minutes of a television news channel will provide a good comprehension of many stories, either in video content or on the news ticker below.
However, Television does face several acute problems, particularly for national network newscasts. It is likely that regional news will soon surpass national network newscasts in audience. Television news also suffers most acutely from the problems with nature of news coverage. Watching television is considerably less dense than reading a newspaper or an online site. In 30 minutes, a television news viewer is able to watch far fewer stories and topics than he or she would with a printed or online publication. A decrease in minutes spent on news by young people might not represent a real decrease in news consumed if television viewing is being replaced by online news, which it is. Simply put, television news tends to be worse in seriousness and relevancy than news on other platforms.
INTERNET & ITS RELEVANCE IN MODERN TIMES
The Internet is in the modern times affects each of the other news platforms. In its present form, online news is an amalgam of print journalism, photojournalism, television and video content, radio and audio content and unique digital and interactive features. Online news can replicate and even improve upon every other delivery system and increase consumer engagement.
For many years online news lagged behind television as a primary source of national and international news, even among young people. In the past four to five years, however, online news outlets have experienced dramatic growth in traffic. Today, the Internet is named the primary news source for national and international news by 64 percent of young educated people, according to latest studies available.
Other surveys have also found that 67% young population of tier II cities read national newspapers online. Though, local news organizations (mainly newspapers) have a much smaller online presence than national and regional news organizations, traditional mainstream news organizations have invested reasonably well in developing successful online platforms. This has led to increase in online readership and also the frequency of use by young people. This only proves that the Web presence can allow newspapers to attract new readers and retain them.
Social networks, however, are an increasingly important and ubiquitous source of news for young people. Millennials are significantly more likely to get news from people who are not journalists who they follow on social networks, and are more likely to connect with professional journalists on these networks as well. Nearly one-quarter of millennials say they rely on their social networks for all their news, and large young population receives or sends news content over e-mail and networks. Recent elections in UP, Punjab and Uttarakhand saw the emergence of using political campaigns on social networks by the parties and candidates to connect with the young voters. Notable use of social networks appears to have driven large increases in the numbers of young people who use the Internet for news and for other information (such as where or how to vote), and to have rapidly accelerated the growth of video as an online news tool.
Young people are leading indicators: their habits, interests and attitudes will guide the country and the world for decades to come. Much is being written young generation (born 1980-1996), the first of whom are beginning to enter their thirties. Yet surprisingly little has been said about what this group means for the future of news media, and even less has been said about the potential to strengthen their relationship with news media.
Truly, young people are interested in the world around them and in community, national and international issues. Their engagement with news media, however, does not consistently reflect this interest.
YOUNG PEOPLE—FUTURE OF NEWS
Youth are the most important audience for the future of the news industry, for obvious reasons. They will be (and in many cases already are) the primary participants in the emerging new media environment, and will be the consumers of new efforts to monetize online news production.
Evidence suggests that youth are interested in the news and are increasingly using the Internet to get it. They also consume news in a “civic context,” relying on friends and family to send stories over e-mail, social networks and word of mouth. Young people get news more randomly than previous generations of consumers, checking in when it is convenient rather than at habitual times. They report frequent feelings of “too much information” online and appear to desire a simple, highly prioritized news experience.
In summary, young people find “the news” relevant and important to their personal, civic and social lives and express an interest in keeping up with what’s going on in the world. At the same time, however, there are many problems—both with content and with user experience—that prevent this generation from being as engaged with the news media as it could be.
NEWS & NEW HABITS OF YOUTH
Youth engaged, but differently
Young people appear generally engaged with current events and public affairs, expressing a high interest in staying informed about the world around them but also skepticism about the usefulness of following the news every day. However, their engagement differs in several important ways from the news habits of older generation.
News monotony and its consumption
A study suggests many young people don’t see the connection between keeping up with news and being informed about issues of importance. Second, the constant availability of news online may make it seem less important to check in regularly, particularly when (as the full report examines) young people report feelings of “monotony” in news content.
News that the Young want culture
People increasingly want the news they want, when they want it. Young people are leaders of “on demand” culture, where rather than checking in with news sources at appointed times (like the 6:30 evening news), they visit when it suits their schedules and expect the content to be ready.
“News grazing”, a new phenomenon
News is not the habitual practice for young people as is the practice amongst older generation. Young people get their news more randomly (or less regularly) than other age groups. Young generation get their news “from time to time and this is generally “news grazing,” and hence it is a great challenge for the news organizations as to how to improve young people’s engagement with news.
News through growing social networks
Most young people get a large part of their news from social networks, family and friends rather than from news outlets directly. “Young people consume news in a more broadly “civic” setting than we (old generation) did. “Thus, the resonance of the quote, from a college student participating in a workshop like this was: ‘If the news is that important, it will find me.’” If young people do expect news to “find them,” prodigious changes in the structure of news organizations are necessary (or at least wise).
No interest in day-to-day developments
Young people report low interest in daily changes in ongoing topics; they appear more interested in the broad context of events and issues. Because they consume the news more randomly, “update” stories that only discuss what changed in the last 24 hours.
Internet—top source for news
The Internet is named as the top source of national and international news by most young people, slightly more than name television. Certain subgroups of young people such as college students rely on the Internet even more than their generation as a whole. Young people are not, however, going primarily to “new media” and independent publications like blogs and community reporting: most millennials use a handful of top news sites, a fact that contradicts concerns about “audience fragmentation” on the Internet. Eighty-six percent of online news users 18-29 in one survey reported using aggregators such as Yahoo! and GoogleNews, an important statistic given recent controversies about “freeriding” and paywalls online. The Web is also the only platform experiencing consistent audience growth across all age groups.
Television news struggles with young audiences
Television remains a top source of national and international news, and regional television remains the strongly dominant source of their native state/city news for young people—though young viewers report spending less time than their older generation. Young people can switch to 24/7 news networks at any time, much as they can online. The decline of the national newscast can be attributed, at least in part, to the news grazing habits of youth: the show comes on at only one time for just 22 minutes of news, making it a relatively inconvenient (and not particularly thorough) choice.
Newspaper use is falling, but content expanding online
Newspaper readership among young people (and the population as a whole) has been declining for some time. Top national newspapers such as The Time of India, Hindustan Times, The Hindu, Dainik Jagran, Eenadu, Malyalam Manorama consistently rank among young people’s top news sites. Many Newspapers have yet to establish substantial online readership in comparison to their print readership. It is reasonable to predict that the virtues of newspaper journalism will survive online and through other technologies, but the printed product (and perhaps the profits that accompanied it) will not.
Media syllabi outdated for new media challenges
Academics are also a great critical area that has yet not woken up to new challenges of news consumption habits. We still have no advance classrooms where the real convergence of journalism either can be taught or demonstrated. There is very less attention on the skill development quotient where students are being trained or educated for handling content for multi-platforms from one single source. There has been no serious thinking over bringing changes in the syllabi to prepare students to serve the young generation on the need, choice, selection and presentation of content dynamically.
Despite the fact that newspapers, however, continue to invest in putting printed papers in schools through programmes such as Newspapers in Education Online news is increasingly occupying space in the young people mind share than television and printed publications.
PROBLEMS: WHY NEWS ISN’T REACHING MORE YOUNG PEOPLE
Millions still lack Internet access
Though India is still far behind in registering internet connections it has emerged as one of the top four countries where the Internet has penetration is trebling every year. Recent reports indicate that mobile devices have already started to bridge the divide, high-speed Internet access remains a challenge.
Religion of journalism no longer exists
“Student’s don’t grow up with the religion of journalism, they don’t imbibe it in the same way that probably our generation did. The cumulative effect is that it is quite likely that young people are less likely to value journalism and feel it is important to keep up with the news.
Trust deficit in News (or the absence thereof)
The vast majority of young people do not trust the news media. Though there is no empirical evidence with me to claim so but the mere fact that the increasing dependence of young people on social media for digging or exchanging information within their own groups testifies their reluctance to trust the news media in its current state completely.
Young people remain elusive on News
Young people do not show up very frequently in the news, either in coverage or in journalism roles. Millennials do not need young faces to pay attention, but given their size in the population they are significantly underrepresented in most coverage, even when topics directly affect them. Coverage tends to view such topics from an outsider’s perspective, making it inherently less relevant for young audiences already inside. Most of the attempts made at bringing a young perspective have managed to be more patronizing than engaging.
News coverage mostly either to dumb down or for high-knowledge
Most news coverage about politics, policy and community issues is designed for high-knowledge; frequent consumers who stay informed about ongoing topics and have the background knowledge to understand the importance and context of events. Young people tend to be more random news consumers and tend to have less background knowledge about the topics being discussed.
Information overwhelmingly crowded
One great challenge that Online news platforms will have to resolve is the availability of too much information and sometimes it is overwhelmingly pouncing on users. News consumers and young people in particular, find this “too much information” experience even more frustrating than not being able to find enough information. Consumers want news outlets to make judgments about what is important and structure their experience around these decisions, so that consumers do not have to sort through every piece of information themselves.
Even the most popular online sites suffer from this usability problem: many of the newspaper websites has too much of content on the home page which makes it complicated for the user to navigate.
Need for regulated Web conversation
Young people report dissatisfaction with the free-for-all, unregulated nature of many online attempts at creating a conversation about the news. If news Websites want to allow discussion on news pages, young people will like it better if the discussion is moderated, prioritized or sortable.
Elusive uniqueness and sameness of news
Many millennials express a feeling of “sameness” in daily news coverage, which suggests that most news outlets are not making clear why each day’s content is unique or valuable (or perhaps are not creating content that is either). This is due in part to a persistent focus on conflict in covering major issues. For example, education is covered very infrequently in major news outlets except when it is framed either by a political battle (such as HRD Minister Kapil Sibbal is fighting every day with educationists and educational institutions or when seasonal issues of admissions surface).
Change is inevitable—news content is up for redesign
The news industry waited far too long to begin experimenting with new approaches online. While the Internet developed organically and communities and habits formed, news organizations focused mainly on recreating their printed or televised content on their sites. The Web’s entrepreneurial spirit has proven challenging for top-heavy media outlets, a reality that is only just beginning to change as more resources and talent are invested in redesigning news content for the digital age by new internet media companies.