Paper: Content instead of form needs to change for news to reach youths

Young people are used to high production quality video.
Young people are used to high production quality video. Source: Creative Christians / Unsplash

Youthful packaging of traditional news content will not have the desired effect, media scholar Marju Himma-Kadakas finds. A broader range of topics and a fresh approach might just work.

Bringing young people into their information field is important for media houses as it helps maintain audience continuity. More broadly, citizens' media literacy is necessary for the functioning of democracy. While young people realize that news is important, practical obstacles crop up: the content and subject matter of news is considered boring and negative.

If the aim is to involve young people in the media space, we should change the definition of news, broaden the range of available topics, emphasize storytelling and technical quality, a recent experimental research paper by Marju Himma-Kadakas and Raul Ferrer-Conill found.

Merely going after form by involving influencers and using social media tricks will not prove fruitful in reaching young people, the authors suggest. "Such attempts usually amount to what young people call cringe," Himma-Kadakas admits.

Hard news just bad news

Himma-Kadakas and Ferrer-Conill suggest that news organizations are often under the illusion that they are producing innovative content that is a good fit for social media and speaks to young people. That is usually not the case. It often turns out upon closer inspection that recent efforts haven't been worth the time or money spent.

The tip of the involvement spear should instead be aimed at fundamental reforms and finding a key that matters to young people. Otherwise, the content will simply constitute information noise to be avoided or ignored.

Their research suggests that news stories centered around politicians and what they do on a daily basis could be tempered with topics that matter to the young generation, such as climate change, mental health and wellbeing.

While the latest generation loves a shorter format, they also like a longer narrative and convincing storytelling. Simply finding that everything is wrong and jumping to another topic where the conclusion is the same does not inspire young people to delve deep.

Himma-Kadakas suggests that interviews tend to concentrate on opinion leaders and on-call commentators, while experts in narrower fields should be given a lot more airtime.

Marju Himma-Kadakas. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Low quality does not fly

The paper also reveals that young people are used to video content sporting a high production quality and are therefore very sensitive to quality. Any media house that thinks social media does not require a proper effort and tries to wing it only works to undermine its own credibility.

Because their peers are capable of producing quality audio and video, young people feel that professional media houses should not fall short. "News content is worth young people's time as long as it sports a high quality, the video is short and the topic of interest," Himma-Kadakas says, trying to sum a recipe for involving youths.

For the purposes of the study, the authors created video clips that used different techniques of relaying information, varied in terms of audio and video quality, as well as genre. What the clips had in common was attempting to communicate news content as a YouTuber would. The videos were shown to youths with whom focus group interviews were later conducted.

The links to the videos can be found in Marju Himma-Kadakas and Raul Ferrer-Conill's article "Is news engagement worthwhile?: Studying young audiences' engagement with YouTuber-like news content" published in Nordicom Review.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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