Seventy-one percent of Americans between ages 16 to 40 get their daily news from social media, according to the Media Insight Project. The survey was conducted between May 18 and June 8, 2022, and showed about a third of respondents get their news each day from Facebook, YouTube and Instagram, and a quarter or more from TikTok, Snapchat and Twitter. Only 45% get their news each day from traditional sources, such as television, radio, newspapers and news websites.
According to St. Thomas University Professor Sky Anderson, young people need to change their media diet to avoid being misled.
Social media “only gives users what will keep them engaged on that platform, not what they need in terms of information,” he said. “Often this information is algorithmically driven toward news stories that inspire anger, because anger keeps people engaged on social media platforms. It also only provides information that people already agree with. But good information is not about what we agree with or don’t agree with; it is just good information.”
John Bussey, an associate editor at The Wall Street Journal agrees: “People just enter an echo chamber and hear back what they want to, they hear back on the left, they hear back on the right, just the interpretation of the news that they would like.”
To change that, traditional news outlets are investing in ways to make their work more engaging, including through more compelling storytelling.
“If you don’t spend a lot of time thinking about how you are going to tell [a story], no one is going to read it,” says Tracy Weber, managing editor at ProPublica. “And there is nothing more despairing than having this unbelievable great investigation you see the traffic on it and no one is reading it or not making change.”
Other means that traditional media have been using are podcasts, newsletters and social media.
“We have got newsletters that go out to younger readers that package the news from The Wall Street Journal in ways that we think will appeal more to a younger audience,” says Bussey. “Also, we have a presence on all of those social media platforms. We are very rigorous about getting our main stories onto Twitter and onto other social media as a way of accessing audiences that might not traditionally pick up a newspaper.”
The key for major newspapers like The New York Times has been creativity. “We have to be open to experimentation,” says Joseph Kahn, executive director at The New York Times. “More visual forms, shorter story forms using different templates. We’re experimenting with a bunch of things, partly with the idea of just reaching more people beyond the traditional journalistic core.”
Despite the efforts, sometimes people just need the news. Anderson emphasizes the importance to consume good information, even if it is not stimulating or provoking. He says that these actions are a necessary part of being an adult.
“We need to monitor our information diet the same way we monitor our food diet,” says Anderson.
And when a news piece is tough to digest, all that a journalist can do is make it easier to read, says Kate Branned, deputy editor at Foreign Affairs.
“The main goal is to make it readable and grab you with the intro,” she says. “And that is true for everybody. Whether or not young people want to read 5,000-word essays.”