“People read the news beyond just wanting to know what’s going on in the world; [it also] has to do with keeping up with their peers. I want to know what’s going on because it almost feels like a disservice to the people I’m hanging out with to not be aware of what’s going on.”
— Will, age 23, San Francisco
In our research on Millennials and the news we found that nearly all of them — 94 percent of those surveyed — have smartphones with Internet connections.
These devices are constellations of information, and are often the first point of contact a digital native will have with your content. It’s vital that your articles and visual elements translate well on a smartphone.
Millennial audiences are often roving consumers, both physically and between sites, platforms, and services. Newsrooms are mapping their content creation, delivery, and distribution to these mobile consumption habits by implementing these key practices:
- Make sure the mobile experience with your content is seamless.
- Work off the assumption that Millennials have information FOMO (“Fear Of Missing Out”) and cater your offerings to their need to miss nothing in the news worlds they orbit.
- Consider smaller bits of content — limited bursts of breaking news as it’s happening, links to other publications’ stories — ensuring that your organization becomes a trusted source for everything your readers need to know at any given moment.
- Consider creating a daily newsletter that bundles the top news stories for your audience; give that newsletter the same unique voice as your content.
- Identify trends from streaming services, popular TV shows, and other entertainment sources Millennials are devouring.
Make sure the mobile experience with your content is seamless
Any team creating content for your organization should be focused on giving users the maximum mobile experience.
Designers should be optimizing visual assets like photos, illustrations, charts, GIFs, and graphs for smartphones. Editors should be monitoring content on mobile devices so they can immediately make any necessary fixes before a story is socialized. Video content creators are becoming so attuned to the smartphone experience that they’re even experimenting with vertical clips at places like The New York Times and AJ+ to better map to users’ mobile habits.
People should always think of the phone as the first screen, because that’s how people are going to find [your content], is via their phones.
“People should always think of the phone as the first screen,” says BuzzFeed’s Mat Honan, “because that’s how people are going to find [your content], is via their phones.”
At BuzzFeed, journalists preview how their articles will appear on mobile screens — both iOS and Android — in the draft version of a story; they also have the option of sending the story to an actual phone to proof it before it goes live. Honan says that mobile “isn’t an afterthought” in his newsroom.
Former RedEye editor Tran Ha warns that a mobile strategy is not the last word on a Millennial strategy, though. “Mobile is just basically the delivery mechanism of choice right now,” she says. “It could change.”
Take advantage of FOMO (“Fear Of Missing Out”)
Before we get into how to package news for a Millennial audience, it’s important to understand their habits. They’re consuming news throughout the day instead of at fixed times.
“It’s a constant stream of news that’s happening and in a very nonlinear way,” says former New York Times User Experience Researcher Prateek Sarkar. “They’re going from email to texts with friends to catching up on news and back to the work email. So there’s constant patter throughout the day.”
Another big insight from Sarkar’s research was that Millennials chafed at the idea of relying on a single or even a small selection of sources for their news.
“They wanted to make sure that they were getting it from a variety of different sources,” he says. “I think that speaks to the idea of FOMO; people don’t want to miss out on the story people were talking about because it wasn’t covered in the Times. They wanted to make sure they were casting a broad net that involves a variety of sources so stories were coming to them.”
They wanted to make sure that they were getting it from a variety of different sources. … People don’t want to miss out on the story people were talking about because it wasn’t covered in the Times.
That fear of missing out connects to a concern that someone in their social network, in their community, or at work (especially for younger Millennials, according to Sarkar) will be talking about something that wasn’t on their radar. This anxiety drives people to regularly check in with the outlets they trust will update them on everything from the latest ISIS developments to the trending beefs between musicians on Twitter.
There’s also a need among older Millennials to be seen as an expert on a topic by their peers at work and among their social networks, says Sarkar.
Your newsroom can ease those Millennial worries through practices like aggregating links to the important news of the day, reporting breaking news in real time, and making sure you’re producing content segments that consumers on limited reading schedules can still digest.
Note that none of these practices should happen at the expense of longer form reporting, which still is valuable to a resourceful generation that uses search engines to dive deep into the topics they bump into on social media.
Consider smaller bits of content
“I like to stay up to date on the basics. I’ve never been the type to need to know every current event, everything about politics. I think that’s why the short headlines give me an idea of what’s happening and then if something bigger comes along, I’ll look into it. I think it’s just because there is so much out there, it’s really overwhelming.”
— Ariana, age 25, San Francisco
With such a high volume of information available at their fingertips, savvy young audiences turn to their trusted sources for quick hits of news at different moments during their days. The more media companies can match that need to be updated on the important stuff in real time, the more successful your content will be with this demographic.
NowThis has turned the bite-sized news niche into a business model. Editor Sarah Frank says their Millennial demographic is underserved by traditional media — they’re ”disgruntled news consumers,” as she calls them, who are frustrated with how poorly information has been packaged for them.
“People don’t want to have to seek out news and information. They don’t want to deal with appointment television, they don’t want to have CNN on in the background all day, but they want to feel like they can easily know what’s going on in the world and it fits easily into their day,” she says. “When news can seep in where you already are — on Facebook, Vine, Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram — that makes news a lot less intimidating.”
The New York Times has instituted new practices around timely reporting and news alerts to fit these needs. Its current formula for breaking news is to create four to six bullet points, with reporters being transparent about the fact that a story is still unfolding, instead of constantly reworking the same 600-word story, says Tyson Evans, editor for newsroom strategy at the Times.
And in the morning and evening, the Times offers daily briefings. “It’s an acknowledgement that if you’ve got five minutes, rather than making you pick from a lot of stories, any one of which can fill your time span, [you can] get a quick hit of all the day’s top stories and what you need to know about them before you go into a meeting or go out to a dinner party,” Evans says.
Consider a daily newsletter that bundles the top news stories and has unique voice
For years editors have been focused solely on driving traffic to their own websites, but that mission is shifting.
Linking out to other publications in apps, newsletters, and in aggregated blog posts is a throwback to the early Blogspot days when the goal was to become a reputable curator, says James Allen, VP of communications & strategy at Mic.
Mic’s app and newsletter both include suggested reading from other sources, a trending habit for Millennial-leaning publications generally. “People should trust where we’re sending them that they’re going to read the highest-quality stuff because we want them to believe that we have the highest-quality stuff,” Allen says.
This brings up another way to engage Millennial readers: a daily newsletter. Newsletters can show off your brand’s voice and news angle in a delivery method that’s convenient for your readers and maps to their digital consumption habits while feeding that desire to stay connected.
“[Newsletters] come into your inbox, you know they’re there, they summarize the news for you. It’s very powerful,” says BuzzFeed’s Mat Honan. “It’s the same sort of action as having the daily newspaper on your doorstep.”
In our study of Millennials and the news, we found that 72 percent of interviewees named “checking email” as the digital activity they engaged in most often, followed closely by keeping up with current events at 64 percent. So it makes sense to capitalize on the combination of these activities with a daily newsletter.
The women behind The Skimm have found success in this formula. Their morning emails give a mostly Millennial readership a rundown of the top news stories in a voice that sounds like a smart, gossipy friend is giving them the scoop.
Founders Danielle Weisberg and Carly Zakin told Nieman Lab that they created their 1.5 million strong email digest for people like themselves — busy professional women who want to stay current and who grab their phones first thing in the morning to scan emails from family, friends, and selected news sources.
“The goal of The Skimm,” they told Nieman Lab, “is that you can walk into any meeting, any interview, any social or professional event, no matter if you’re meeting with someone who works in finance or education or politics, and be able to converse with them, to be able to be well rounded.”
CharlotteFive’s newsletter is founded on a similar understanding of its readership. The editors load the daily email with five stories that can be read quickly, introducing the digest with a short, chatty letter from the editor. The goal, says Editor Corey Inscoe, is to give their audience everything they need to know about Charlotte in 15 minutes or less.
“We’re not spending too much time on any given story, we’re just giving you the information you need to know and getting out of the way,” he says. “It’s the ‘Charlotte smart, fast’ idea. You can do deeper reading with the links we provide.”
Identify trends from streaming services, popular TV shows, and other entertainment sources Millennials are devouring
When modeling news content after the digital routines of Millennials, it’s important to understand their media consumption beyond news.
In our report on Millennials paying for media, we found that streaming television and music services like Netflix or Spotify are the main types of content younger consumers are willing to pay for themselves. Those spending habits could map to news media over time if we can identify and create content around the services Millennials are supporting financially.
The first step in testing this theory starts with content experiments shaped by destinations that gave grabbed Millennial attention — such as The Daily Show.
Mic’s Director of Editorial Strategy Slade Sohmer says his team produced a Daily Show-style series called “Flip the Script” with Liz Plank that covers hard-hitting topics in short, concrete, fun ways. Sohmer says the series garnered 33 million viewers over eight episodes. “Those [videos] were shared better than we ever could’ve imagined,” he says.
“We’ll look at bigger data trends in terms of what platforms people are spending their time on and we’ll try and come up with ways in which we can do something similar,” says Sohmer
Based on the Netflix user’s binge-watching habits, The New York Times experimented with a series called “Summer of Science” that offered what Tyson Evans, editor for newsroom strategy, calls “hundreds of really fascinating, standalone, fully-baked stories — everything from underwater volcanoes to gender studies and breaking down the science of these reports.”
When modeling news content after the digital routines of Millennials, it’s important to understand their media consumption beyond news.
“We already have a weekly science section, so it’s not like we have to start from scratch,” he says. “It’s just a question of can we start to change our rhythm, or tone, or cadence to see if that attracts a different type of audience and creates a different type of expectation, in the same way that a weekly print section creates a certain expectation.”
The idea, he adds, is to use and understand trending digital services in order to create similar sorts of hooks around newsroom audience expectations. “That’s something other sites do so smartly,” he adds, “and news has been a little bit on the sidelines of that game.”
There’s even something to consider in Amazon’s ability to learn about its customers and offer suggestions based on that data, which has created the expectation that other services will likewise understand their users and guide them towards the information they want.
Naomi, a 26-year-old living in San Francisco, tells us in an interview that she appreciates the customizable news filters the BBC offers and wishes that would extend to other news outlets.
“I’m sure there is a way, in our world of big data, for news sites to kind of select what you read [based on] the kinds of things you read often,” she says. “For example, Google Now does that. It will be like, ‘You searched for Donald Trump recently, so here’s an article about him.’ It allows you to stay on top of politics or whatever interests you have. If other news sites could start to do that it would help a lot.”