Closing the experience gap: Understanding Next-Gen news consumption

News consumption gap widens as publications prioritize monetization over young readers


According to a research report, the disconnect in news consumption is growing as some publications focus on consumers they can monetize instead of building relationships with younger readers.

The Next Gen News is a report co-produced by FT Strategies and Knight Lab at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications. The report found that, among many things, young news consumers will read long features about a topic of interest as much as older readers. The report used 2030 as the time period for closing the experience gap.

The report comprised 45 interviews with news consumers aged 18 to 25 in the U.S., India and Nigeria. Jeremy Gilbert, a Medill professor and Knight Chair in Digital Media Strategy, told E&P that the gap between what people want from news and what they’re getting is getting wider.

“The match of expectations is that too many news publications seem to be hoping that the audience ages into the content they create instead of creating content that serves people in that age group,” said Gilbert.

The report extracted five modes of consumption from the interviews to understand consumers’ behaviors. The framework boiled down to sift, substantiate, study, socialize and sensemake regarding news consumption.

“A really big thing that we heard from all consumers that we interacted with is that it’s not sufficient for me to read [and] listen to the news,” Gilbert said. “[There’s] a keen desire to take action, especially on some vital problems around Civil Rights, around climate change, [in particular] ‘what can I do when I hear about these intractable issues.’”

Modes of consumption framework is from Medill’s Next Gen News study, which sheds light on how to build relationships with younger readers. (Graphic by Northwestern Medill School of Journalism)

Another example explored in the report was the ideal news experience in which next-generation readers emphasize the credibility of lived experiences and topic specialization more than education, awards and brand association. The research found that readers want to receive things reported in conversational and informal language and don’t necessarily want everything in a video that’s under a minute.

The report details how news producers can improve the news experience for young consumers. By offering personalized content, relevant news that adds value to their daily lives and removing barriers to consuming news, news producers can tap into a vast, untapped market. The report also suggests expanding content sampling, such as providing free subscriptions for a limited period, as a way to attract and retain young readers.

The report offers newsrooms a unique opportunity to use the research and gain a deeper understanding of the needs and preferences of the next generation. News producers can stay ahead of the curve by conceiving and implementing strategies based on this understanding. For George Montagu, head of insight and senior manager at FT Strategies, the toolkit can be a valuable resource in creating ways to cater to the needs of the next generation.

“What we’re hoping from the toolkit are interesting conversations and those organizations to have maybe a slightly new way of thinking about the next generation that isn’t as generalized,” Montagu said. “We also want some experiments and initiatives that might be better suited for those groups.”

Keldy Ortiz is a New York-based writer and educator. He has written for publications locally and nationally. (Photo by Michael Jackson)


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