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Implications for publishers

Understanding these distinct segments within the Millennial generation should offer some clarity and opportunity for publishers seeking to reach these audiences.

One clear implication is that the youngest Millennials, those we call Unattached and those we call Explorers, are hardly newsless. Their habits are still forming. And how publishers try to reach them should vary. A key challenge for reaching the Unattached, for instance, is to find a way to make the accidental or random encounter happen again, and to find ways to attract the unintended visitor through Facebook to explore what other content is available. A key challenge for reaching Explorers, by contrast, probably involves attracting them with specific areas of interest and news that they want to talk about and share with friends. The social dynamic of news is more important to this group than any other.

Of the four generational segments, the Activists (25-34, highly engaged) are most likely to engage with news regularly. This is particularly true for local publishers, as Activists stand out in part by their connection to and use of local news.

But the Activists represent only 23 percent of all Millennials. To reach the other three-quarters, those in publishing may have to think differently.

The Distracted (also 25-34, but low-energy news consumers) are harder to reach. They do not pay much attention to general interest news. But they are attuned to information that applies directly to their busy lives. Journalists who put in the work to understand the distinct experiences and concerns of the Distracted could certainly produce the kind of news that resonates in the lives of these people. This may mean, for example, better coverage of families, classrooms, and office life, rather than criminals, school boards, and stock exchanges. It does not mean, as it does for Activists, orienting the news toward civic involvement.

Among the youngest cohorts of Millennials, the Unattached (18-24, weak news engagement) seem the hardest to reach with traditional news. But they may be the most attuned to entertainment and popular culture. This group, about a third of all Millennials, prefers video games, music, movies, and friends to seeking out news. BuzzFeed-style publishers can likely be successful here, opening the door with entertaining pop culture content and slipping in some hard news when possible. It’s also plausible to hope that many of the Unattached gain interest in news as they age past 25, eventually joining the well-meaning Distracted group or even the highly engaged Activists. Yet, clearly the way to forge a relationship is to create material that is relevant to their lives now. Interestingly, this group, which may in some ways be closest to the classic stereotype of a Millennial, hardly defines the generation.

The Explorers (age 18-24, with high news engagement) are Millennials publishers may reasonably hope to reach at this very young age with an approach that may be more traditional—but should hardly be the full extent of a strategy. This group, though young, has a concern and interest in the world and seeks news about issues that matter. They are heavily absorbed in social media and very participatory in the way they interact with it. And that is part of a motivation for encountering news that they may, to some degree, outgrow if they become more like Activists as they mature and begin to raise families. For now, however, Explorers enjoy news so they can talk about it. They lead the way in the smaller but news-oriented social networks, Twitter and Reddit. And winning them over to your brand at this age could mean they remain loyal readers for decades to come.

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