What Makes Younger Readers Pay (or Not Pay) for News

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According to a new report—titled How Young People Consume News and the Implications for Mainstream Media—here are a few reasons why young people will pay for news:

  • If they have a personal closeness to a brand and what it stands for.
  • If a brand provides unique content that they need in order to learn and progress in their career.
  • If a brand offers something unique that they would struggle to get anywhere else.
  • And, on occasion, if their parents paid for their subscriptions (parental news legacy or a "worthy" birthday present).

Other than the last one, their wants are fairly universal.

And here are a few reasons why they will not pay:

  • The mindset that news should be free.
  • The benefit is not clear enough.
  • They already have free access.
  • One source is not enough. They'd rather use multiple sources.
  • A perception that usage options are limited—say only available on a yearly basis.

Again, not too different. Oftentimes, the way younger people engage and consume today's media quickly becomes the way the rest of us do. So findings from a study like this—commissioned by Reuters—can be more telling than just getting a younger audience. It can be about cultivating a bigger audience of everyone.

Here are a few more takeaways from the report:

1. Information must be easily accessible. "The experience of news should feel as easy and accessible as Facebook and Netflix. This is partly about how the content is presented, but also about how it is surfaced."

2. Storytelling must always be considered. "News brands need to tell stories in ways that fit the expectations of young people and the moments when they are open to news. This means creating formats that are native to mobile and social platforms as well as incorporating these ideas into their own websites."

3. Instagram may be the next big thing (for niche marketing). "Instagram is the primary app found on almost all phones and, when found, commanded the most daily minutes." My 30-year-old nephew just sent me to Instagram for his photos. Other 30-somethings I know are there much more than Facebook.

4. Podcasts will continue to grow. "Podcasts sit in a space of their own—akin to radio for the digital generation, but more personally relevant... allowing for in-depth experiences, with a range of tonality and topics rarely found anywhere else. [And they] are easy to access and can be listened to anywhere, while doing anything... They offer a level of seamless curation that has become expected for social media generations."

5. Seamless curation will become a thing. "It is therefore important that news content, format and tone fit the roles and moments they are intended for. Otherwise, news brands run the risk that experiences are not seamless or intuitive, and younger audiences will disengage."

6. Publishers may have to widen their scope globally. "Young people tend to have a global outlook and often find that international stories are reported with a nationalistic style, rather than an honest or local perspective." People are able to attain much more of a connection today with other countries. Their friends might be living or traveling there so it could be on their social media every day.

7. Reporting will need to be more diverse and inclusive. "Young people also have a strong appetite for coverage of a broader range of topics in general, such as arts & culture and the environment. While this kind of content is available, major news brands should, and can be, even more diverse and inclusive. Primarily, younger audiences are interested in human, personal and real stories that inspire their goals in life, which lends itself to wider coverage."

8. Align with positive issues, offering opportunities for involvement. As part of the mix young people want stories that can inspire them about the possibility of change and provide a path to positive action. They are tired of media agendas and stereotypes, but are not looking for blandness or balance for balance's sake.

You can download the entire report here.


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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…