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What digital trends are telling us in 2024

Young woman sits on wooden seating in shorts and to holding phone and looking out into distance. Other people are sat along from her, looks like it is sunset and there is water in the distance.
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Having published my Gen Z News Media Habits research for the CIPR back in February, as always, it’s great to geek out over the latest findings over news media habits and online activity when it comes to youth audiences.

Earlier this month, Reuters Institute launched their Digital News Report 2024 and just this week Jigsaw, a subsidiary of Google, shared ‘the secret digital lives of Gen Z’, a report that started out hoping to be the first in-depth ethnographic studies of Gen Z’s information literacy, but evolved into a revealing look at their digital mindset.

They’re worth a read through but in case you’re short on time, I’ve pulled out some of the key themes I think are most useful in helping us to better engage youth audiences.

1. Preference for Video-Based Platforms for News Content

Across all age groups Reuters found an up lift in video news consumption, but for Gen Z even more so and this was high for short form, long form and live streams. Gen Z’s most popular platforms for news content globally were YouTube, Instagram and TikTok.

This preference also included social-first news media journeys over news sites and news aggregators, something we’ve been seeing in recent years, continuing to fuel the challenge of monetisation for news content.

  • 71% of Gen Z users access YouTube weekly and 67% use TikTok Weekly for news content (Reuters)

  • Two thirds (66%) of global audiences, including Gen Z, access short news videos weekly (Reuters)

  • Gen Z show a strong preference for platforms that offer visually engaging content, 73% use Instagram and 66% use Snapchat weekly (Reuters)

  • The three motivations for using social video were found to be; Seeing is believing, Convenience and Diverse Perspectives.

  • However, only 4% only use online video for news each week. Most use a mix of formats and sources (Reuters)

2. Fragmented Attention Across Multiple Networks

The digital landscape for Gen Z is characterised by fragmented attention across various social media networks. The Jigsaw research suggests that young people do not go online for a singular purpose or behave in a singular way when it comes to consuming or checking content saying, “We should imagine young people as manoeuvring between different modes when online.”

News use across online platforms is fragmenting with now six networks reaching at least 10% of respondents for news and Reuters point to ‘The Great Platform Reset’ that’s underway.

Platforms’ strategies are being adjusted in light of generative AI, changing consumer behaviour and regulatory concerns around misinformation.

3. Trust, privacy and community fact check

The Jigsaw research found that where older generations are struggling to fact-check information and cite sources, Gen Z are more likely to read the headlines and speed-scroll to the comments to assess what others are saying. They are outsourcing the determination of truth and importance to like-minded, trusted influencers.

Their findings suggest that young people spend the majority of their time online “not concerned with truth, because they are seeking only to pass the time” and as a result, “literacy interventions should be designed to intervene at the right time, to match users’ distinct information modes, and to work with their existing fact-checking practices.” This went into greater depth on trust heuristics and how the trustworthiness of information only mattered in certain emotional states. This suggests potential risks over misinformation but also the importance of developing solutions that are fit for purpose.

Reuters find concern over distinguishing between trustworthy and untrustworthy sources and a distrust of AI in news production indicating a preference for human-generated content.

  • 45% of Gen Z uses anonymous social media accounts to maintain privacy and control over their digital presence (Reuters)

  • Concern about misinformation is high, reflected globally among Gen Z audiences (Reuters)

  • More than a quarter of TikTok users (27%) say they struggle to detect trustworthy news, the highest out of all the networks (Reuters)

4. Sources for news content

An interesting element of the Reuters report was to explore the sources of news that were being valued on YouTube. In the UK mainstream news and alternative sources were equally matched, followed by ordinary people, then personalities and celebrities, politicians/activists.

In the UK, Politics Joe and TLDR News, set up by Jack Kelly, attract audiences for videos that try to make serious topics accessible for young people. The most mentioned TikTok news creator in the UK is Dylan Page, with over 10m followers.

4. Adaptation to Niche and Messy Digital Ecosystems

Young people have adapted to the messy and niche ecosystems of digital content. They are accustomed to navigating through vast amounts of user-generated content and have developed unique practices to manage this information overload.

As the Jigsaw research highlights, Gen Z are online in different modes and therefore will skip through content accordingly. This use of influencers and others within their online ecosystems to shortcut content, verify and validify it makes sense.

  • Gen Z engages with multiple platforms for different purposes and will interact with news differently on them

  • 25% of under 35s prefer to start news journeys with search and because people are often actively looking for information, the resulting news journey tends to be more valuable for publishers than social fly-by traffic (Reuters)

6. Redefining News

In my report earlier this year, which included a breadth of news habits data, industry interviews and youth insight, the very definition of what news is today seemed like a clear basis to redefine news content fit for purpose for audiences in particular youth ones.

Reuters has explored this through the news avoidance and low engagement, finding that many audiences find news content overwhelming and at times top line rather than exploring different perspectives. Interestingly there were also gaps for more optimistic news and differences in interests, particularly when it came to age.

  • Younger groups are more interested in the environment and climate change, as well as other subjects such as wellness, which are less of a priority for older groups (Reuters).

  • We find even bigger gaps around gender… a reminder that older, male-dominated newsrooms may not always be instinctively in tune with the needs of those who don’t look or think like them. (Reuters).

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