How do young people consume news?
When I need to know something, I Google it. The first few options usually lead me to a Wikipedia page or a list of steps on wikiHow, but that’s just a quick scan before I click on related YouTube videos, displayed right below the search bar.
I sit back and watch different people show me how to extract aloe gel from my plant, how to draw syntax trees or how to develop financial hygiene. Depending on the gravity of my enquiry, I might look up the sources, or the background of the person who made the video. In a short matter of time, I have my answers, more or less. It may not be the most reliable information but it is by far the easiest way to get it. Anyway: everything I do, revolves around my laptop. It is practically impossible to stay offline and still earn money, get a degree or keep in touch with friends.
As part of Generation Z - born between the late 90s and early 2000s – it has never been different. We have used phones and computers from a very young age, constantly being stimulated by information and entertainment. Our generation does not actively seek out information. It has been omnipresent for as long as we can remember, readily available on the shelves of online platforms. We take what seems useful, interesting and pleasant, in accordance with our interests and our sense of purpose. We don’t use traditional media much, which project the status quo of our parents and grandparents. We get our news from social media, TV shows, documentaries and forums.
When New York writer Fran Lebowitz was asked about the importance of news in 1978, she said: „People are more interested in gossip than in news. News is just kind of historical gossip, it’s just gossiping about people who are more important than you are. But no one really feels that anyone is more important than they are, so the only sort of news I would be interested in seeing is personalised news. (...) People don’t want to hear news about other people, they just pretend to, so they look well informed.”
Lebowitz makes two points my generation easily recognizes. Firstly, the realisation that traditional news media can be pretentious. Young people believe in authenticity, fairness, diversity and inclusiveness and find that often lacks in traditional media. We don’t believe in an elitist approach that reinforces inequality. We want personal accounts and relatable stories – precisely what social platforms offer. The person delivering the news may not be the ultimate expert, but their audience can consume information without intimidated by formality or complexity. Not because we ought to know, but because we want to.
Lebowitz is also right in pointing out that all we really want to know is about ourselves. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Our generation wants to find out what makes us happy, so we can contribute to society, while achieving our personal goals. We don’t need the pretense and glory of knowing something for the higher purpose, projected and glorified by traditional media. Actively following the news is now something for a small circle of people interested in current affairs, politics, international relations, etc. But others have turned into outlets that cover completely different topics, like art, ecology or mindfulness.
Of course, new media have their own problems. Social media are addictive and we often spend much more time than we wish consuming content that we later consider useless. We feel guilty and stressed for the wasted time we could have used for something more productive. And social media content is not always better - in fact, a lot of platforms do not control quality or reliability at all. This doesn’t necessarily mean that just because an information was taken from a YouTube video it’s less reliable than a newspaper article. But in the overwhelming midst of options, it’s important to filter content and approach critically the information we’re processing.
That is no different from traditional media, which range from the trashy and sensationalist Sun to the elegant and polished New Yorker. Maybe what has not changed over the past generations is that every reader needs to be critical of the content they consume - as pleasant and engaging as it might be.