NZ media in struggle to retain young audiences - what can be done?

May 30, 2024

NZ media in struggle to retain young audiences - what can be done?

Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2023 observes that younger audiences ‘pay more attention to celebrities, influencers and social media personalities than journalists.’ Photo: Amani Sadique

Newsrooms need to do more if they want a future audience by better engaging with younger generations, warn New Zealand journalists and academics.

And the "age issue" is partly due to the heirarchy of older journalists in newsrooms, says James Hollings, associate professor of Journalism at Massey University.

Meanwhile, engaging directly with young people on social media helps, especially showing the news process, says Lucy Bendell, TVNZ Breakfast reporter.

The How Young People Consume News report highlights that mainstream news media has ‘an age problem’ and that news organisations are ‘struggling to remain relevant to a generation that has grown up with the distractions and diversions of digital media.’

In addition, the 2024 Trust In News report has revealed that social media has become the fifth most-used source of news in Aotearoa.

Hollings says that platforms such as TikTok can have journalistic advantages such as being ‘light, quick and easy’, but has its pitfalls.

“The structure is not trustworthy. There's no real editing or oversight.”

He believes more must be done to news presentation in Aotearoa to capture the younger audience.

“Some students in my class say that they don’t think the mainstream organisations are relevant to them.

“I think the problem is that young people don't have enough input into what kinds of stories and topics are covered.”

Bendell has an online presence on Instagram and TikTok where she often posts her broadcast work from the Breakfast shows.

“The idea to start posting content on my TikTok did not come from pushing the agenda of my stories, but rather to engage the younger audience that news is still there, it’s fun, it’s lively.

“I attach my broadcast work with behind-the-scenes - me getting mic’d up, me choosing an outfit at 3:30 am - that’s what they engage with, the authenticity.”

Bendell thinks that TikTok as a news source can be trustworthy, depending on the accounts.

“You can trust some platforms on TikTok as a news source, like Al Jazeera and BBC, but first you must educate yourself on who is a reliable source.

“How to craft content to target the younger audience is still something I’m sure many news organisations are working on.”

Hollings suggests that the age issue in mainstream news stems from the hierarchy in newsrooms and believes that they are not currently precisely reflecting or capturing the preoccupations of younger people due to them ‘not being very democratic.’

“I think hierarchies of newsrooms tend to privilege certain points of view over others which means that the right news questions are not being asked.

“More experienced journalists tend to privilege their ideas for what’s news over other people in the newsroom.”

Bendell suggests a way of reaching the younger audience is for journalists to create a more personal connection with them.

“The personal connection needs to come from the way you story tell, in a TV piece or online story - explain to us who you tried to talk to, and who declined you, point out the obvious, and make it more personable.

“To capture the younger audience there are a lot of things to consider and adapt - shorter attention spans, different content and authenticity.

“We need to use new digital platforms to the best of their advantage.”

Hollings agrees, saying that people want a more personal connection and prefer ‘a real face.’

“Journalism is about surprising people and engaging their interest through authentic, quality content, not through somehow getting a magic formula.

“We’ve got to be constantly changing and constantly responding and constantly listening.”

LISTEN here: Executive Producer of TVNZ’s Seven Sharp Paul Moor dives into what drove them to start creating social media content, and how it hasn’t had an impact on their viewer demographic

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