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London Press Club debate: Capturing the Lost Generation Z

Posted on: February 13, 2020 by Mariella Brown

Ted Hennessey, an editorial apprentice with the Evening Standard and the Press Association, reports from this week’s London Press Club debate “In search of the lost generation”. It was sponsored by the Society of Editors and Cision.

Traditional publishers have lost touch with Generation Z because the latter think of news as a “chore”, a digital strategist this week told a London Press Club debate.

Nic Newman, a Senior Research Associate for the Reuters Institute, addressed a packed audience where he concluded that attitudes towards the media have changed over generations.

He was part of a five-strong panel of journalists discussing the topic of “Have mainstream publishers lost touch with Generation Z”.

The debate centred around research from Reuters Institute which showed that under-35s spent just eight minutes on news websites per week during the 2019 General Election.

The data suggested a clear lack of interest in mainstream news among those in Generation Z and the early bracket of Millennials. 

Those under the age of 35 spent just two minutes a day looking at current affairs, compared to 22 minutes every week for over 35s.

Mr Newman told the audience: “The core reasoning was the different expectations that these generations have, rooted in the ways they grew up. 

“Older generations see news as a duty, as part of the democratic process, while younger generations are more likely to think of the news as a chore, or what they can get out of the news.

“It’s a transactional sense of news that’s quick and easier to access.”

But Mr Newman did go on to say that it was too early to suggest Generation Z would shun mainstream news for the rest of their lives, as an interest in current affairs usually begins at an older age.

Also on the panel – chaired by BBC journalist Samantha Simmonds – was Paul Clarkson, Group Managing Editor of The Sun, who said the issue was not in reaching younger people online, but instead how to monetise content.

He said: “There was a stat that showed just three per cent of the time Gen Z spend online was related to news content, I’m not quite sure where the other 97 per cent is, there’s only so many dog memes and pictures of celebrities to look at. This is the attention economy, that’s the perfect way to describe it, never before has a generation had so many things competing for their attention.

“But I don’t think it’s the reaching them that’s the issue, we are already reaching massive numbers of Gen Z, but they probably don’t know it, the basic problem is how do we make money out of them? While they’re happy to pay for their Netflix subscription, they’re certainly not willing to pay for news, which is the main issue.”

He added: “We’ve managed to reach massive numbers of Gen Z through platforms like Snapchat, TikTok and Facebook, so we’re reaching them in huge numbers but there’s not a lot of money that comes back.”

Representing Generation Z on the panel was Evening Standard and Press Association apprentice, Abbianca Makoni, who suggested that greater diversity would attract younger audiences. 

She said: “If you are not using YouTube effectively, with short videos explaining about what an article was talking about, if you’re not using certain things like IGTV and Instagram and all those social media outlets young people are using, then you haven’t taken that first step.

“I think it’s important to understand that a lot of young people may not be willing to go out and pick up a newspaper, but if they do see a certain story on Instagram they might be more willing to read it.

“It’s also about the type of content you’re publishing, you have to publish the hard news and serious news, but at the same time, a lot of young people do want to read more positive stories, they want to know ‘what did that young businessman do to get where he is?’. 

“So those stories that discuss the positive aspects of minority communities, because I’ve heard a lot of people say ‘it’s far too negative, we know knife crime is ongoing, but what about solution-based journalism?’”

She added: “It comes back to diversity in the newsroom, who are you getting to tell the stories? That’s how you connect with young people. If I’m reading a newspaper and I see someone with a similar name to mine, an African name, I feel represented, I become interested in what the person is writing about, it makes me want to research the story.”

Also on the panel was Yara Silva, Group Head of Social Media for Reach plc’s national titles and Vicky Frost, editor of the Evening Standard’s Future London.

Debates are held by the London Press Club each February in association with the Stationers’ and Newspaper Makers Company. 

In the past they have focused on equal opportunity and pay for women journalists, and the battle for survival of freedom of the press.

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