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Listen, explain, and be constructive: How to reach young audiences

World News Publishing Focus

World News Publishing Focus
Your Guide to the Changing Media Landscape

Listen, explain, and be constructive: How to reach young audiences

While working as a fellow at the University of Southern Denmark’s Department of Journalism, Gottlieb identified a set of engagement criteria designed to be used as editorial tools, as well as for educational and training purposes of journalists that want to better connect with younger audiences.

They are designed to complement Denmark's most commonly used news values, namely “topicality”, “relevance”, “sensation”, “familiarity” and “conflict”. The five engagement criteria Gottlieb identified are “trends”, “meaningfulness”, “engagement”, “surprise”, and “constructiveness”.

“It seems to be a myth, that teenagers would like their media content to be as colourful and noisy as possible,” he wrote in a summary of his research published in 2017, which describes the engagement criteria in more detail.

“At least in the focus groups we found that you don’t have to shout out loud to facilitate their engagement in news stories. Stay calm, listen to your audience and watch their media behaviour in general to find the keys on how to approach them as a journalist was one of the main findings in the fellowship.”

Ahead of his appearance at a session on news media literacy at the World News Media Congress, June 1 - 3 in Glasgow, Gottlieb shares some more insight into the relationship between young people and the news.

WAN-IFRA: How would you characterise the relationship younger people have with the news media of today?

Aslak Gottlieb: The good news is that a sufficient number of segments among younger audiences actually want to engage in the traditional matters that journalism is about. They do want to engage in topics of general interest to society, and they find the role of the press important and relevant. On the other hand, they are very picky about their media diet. Intuitively they sense that they are not really a target group. They feel talked about rather than talked with when faced with the daily news flood.

How has this relationship evolved over the past years?

Reach back to the 80s when hybrid technology caused a boom in TV channels and several television sets in the households. From there on, it has been only in the direction of a more individualised consumer pattern, meaning that media socialisation happened laissez faire, so to speak. It’s my belief that the impact of the parents’ habit of following the news in the printed newspaper, watching news on TV and listening to the radio has decreased dramatically. Following the news has gone from a very loud and visible media activity – think of the parents spreading out a broadsheet newspaper on the morning table with the radio news playing in the background – to a merely sensory thing for the kids that grew up in the last decade, not knowing what kind of activity their parents pursue on their mobile devices.

What I’m saying is that young adults no longer see themselves as media consumers shaped in the image of their parents since they don’t even have this image to rely on. This means that they come out of adolescence with only their friends and social media as reference points to the type of media content journalism represents, which changes the news industry’s premises on how to engage with them.

What are some of the strategies news organisations can deploy to better reach and engage younger audiences?

News organisations could just do nothing and wait for younger audiences to grow old. But with the digital explosion of media content providers of all kinds, this could be the end of journalism as a unique media standard. At least, I’d have a defensive strategy, meaning that you always make sure to mention young people in your stories and use them as sources treated with the same respect and importance as others.

Ideally, you reach out actively to them as an audience on a platform where it is possible to merge your ways. A whole generation of young adults right know are brought up with gaming as one of their most influential media activities. So why not go into news games? Invite your users to play Brexit instead of the traditional mix of op-eds and political forecasts.

Can you share an example of a news organisation that is doing particularly well with younger audiences? If so, what is it that they are doing better than others?

I’m quite thrilled with printed newspapers for kids, actually. These editions are great metaphors of news as a journalistic phenomenon, which I believe will have a long term effect on the users because news will be in their media diet from a very early life stage. I’m convinced that titles like The New York Times and Dagens Nyheter are creating a good image of the press among younger audiences by giving away free digital subscriptions on certain occasions. Even more crucial are initiatives where younger audiences are invited to collaborate on creating content. These kinds of projects show that news media are not just pushy and deaf to their audience. There is a will to engage with and understand new consumers.

What role do you think media literacy programmes can play in bridging the gap between younger people and news brands?

Media literacy has the most effect in the long term. And even for this it is very hard to find hard evidence. But since news media organisations can no longer expect the parents to be influencers on their children’s media habits, I think the schools play an even more crucial role than ever before. Teachers can help the news industry uphold a demand for quality journalism among future generations of media users. And isn’t that what it’s all about? Demand always pays off with supply.


Simone Flueckiger's picture

Simone Flueckiger


2019-03-15 14:07

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The news publishing industry is experiencing transformation at an ever-growing pace, with new policy issues arising as the landscape changes.

We will be examining policy discussions that will define the news publishing environment of the future, the key topics being internet governance, privacy and copyright. Click here to learn more about our work.

WAN-IFRA Media Policy team and experts.

The 71st World News Media Congress, the 26th World Editors Forum and the 3rd Women in News Summit took place from 1 - 3 June 2019 in Glasgow, Scotland.

In this blog, WAN-IFRA provides previews, interviews, summaries of the presentations and other useful information about the Congress.

Participants were also very active on Twitter throughout the event under the hashtag #wnmc19.

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