Chapter 2

How we explored the topics Gen Z and Millennials most closely follow

This Media Insight Project survey asked about 29 separate topics — 9 “lifestyle” topics, 9 “news you can use” topics, and 11 “hard news” topics — to figure out which topics Gen Z and Millennials followed, and where and how they get news and information on their most-followed topics. 

Overall, Americans ages 16 to 40 pay at least some attention to many topics. On average, they follow nine different topics in our list, often a mix of “lifestyle,” “news you can use,” and “hard news” topics. 

Several "hard news" and "news you can use" topics are followed at similar rates to "lifestyle" topics.

For the purposes of this study, we asked detailed follow-up questions about the “hard news” and “news you can use” topics Gen Z and Millennials say they follow most often. In setting aside “lifestyle” topics such as entertainment, our goal was to understand the news habits of this population when it comes to matters of civic importance. 

Gen Z and Millennials follow a variety of “hard news” and “news you can use” topics

The top three topics selected by Gen Z and Millennials that they follow most often among the “hard news” category are: national politics or government; social issues like abortion, gun policy, or LGBTQ issues; and crime and public safety.

National politics, social issues, and public safety are the most-followed "hard news" topics.

The three most-followed topics in the “news you can use” category are: information on traffic, weather, or transportation; information related to COVID-19 such as the state of the pandemic, restrictions, or policies like mask mandates and vaccines; and information related to health and mental health. 

Traffic, weather or transportation, COVID-19, and health or mental health are the top 3 "news you can use" topics.

After identifying the topic they follow most closely in each of the two categories, respondents were asked how often they follow that specific topic, where they get information about that topic (including social media platforms and traditional news sources), and which social media platforms and traditional news sources they use most often for this information. 

The following sections go through the six most-followed topics identified previously. For each topic, we provide information about:

  • Who follows each topic most often? 1
  • How they get news about each topic, including:
    1. What social media platforms they use 
    2. What type of social media accounts they use 
    3. What traditional news sources they use 

We then looked at the news behavior of those who follow these topics most often, including:

  1. What percent seek out news rather than bump into news
  2. What percent pay for news
  3. What percent share news with friends and family 
  4. What percent comment on news online or in social media 

We compared the demographics of people who most frequently follow each topic with the overall demographic make-up of Gen Z and Millennials. In general, what we found suggests news organizations have an opportunity to attract broad audiences for the topics across age, gender, race and ethnicity, type of community, and education level. However, journalists and news organizations should note there are some differences. For example, some topics are more often followed by Gen Z than older Millennials or younger Millennials; some are more often followed by those with more education than those with less education. 

Understanding the differences will help news organizations strategize on how to expand the audiences for their beats and build “on-ramps” for loyal Gen Z and Millennial audiences overall. 

Continue reading: National politics or government

  1. The differences highlighted for each topic in this section are statistically significant even when controlling for demographic and social characteristics such as age, gender, education, income, political party identification, type of community they live in, and race/ethnicity.