David Arkin's blog

Have we lost millennial readers? Only if we create boring, un-social content


Newsonomics guru Ken Doctor’s latest post detailing how the newspaper industry lost the millennial generation is both depressing and motivating.

Doctor’s piece examined how publications like BuzzFeed, Upworthy and Mic have grabbed the millennial generation (those who are 18-34 years old). He offered an interesting comparison between Mic and 24 McClatchy newspapers, clearly demonstrating that newspaper companies sure have the 55-plus generation locked down but have completely lost that younger demographic, the one that advertisers clamor for.

A few interesting bullet points Doctor pointed out about millennials that came to light in a recent publisher survey:

— News brands don’t matter to millennials. They get their news through social media. They do not make a distinction between news, entertainment and advertising content.

— They want visually appealing content (graphics, GIFs, etc.)

— They want content that ignites an emotional connection.

— They trust what their friends recommend.

So, does this mean we should all rush out and create a bunch of Red Eye-type publications tomorrow? No. But there are some things newsrooms can do to ensure millennials don’t permanently check out from us.

Ask yourself, would you read it? It’s a question worth asking every reporter during pitch meetings and editors during budget meetings. Well, would you? And if not, is it worth writing? If it is, then what angle can you take to make it more interesting? Sure, this exercise is helpful for our older readers as well, but there’s no way dry meeting stories are ever going to engage a generation that wants to be entertained.

Entertaining content isn’t just about celebs: There’s this misperception that millennials just want TMZ and listicals. Do they want some of that? Sure. I am betting that the 55 and older crowd does as well. But entertaining content can take a normal, everyday story and make it interesting. For example, instead of just doing a story with a photo of the home in your community that goes all out with its Christmas lights display, do a time-lapse video of the decorations going up. Or create a list of the 10 best Christmas light decorations in your community and use a map and embed a video with each location. Ask readers to comment on their favorites and aggregate their comments in your map. That takes an average story and makes it interesting and actually useful.

Social media: How are you determining what you should be pushing through social media? Is data driving decisions? Are you looking to see what kind of stories do well in social media, creating more of that content and then pushing it to your social channels? Most aren’t. But all should. We know the importance of social media, but most news organizations still treat their social accounts like RSS feeds. It’s story after story. Social media works when we make it an experience, and that’s definitely what millennials are looking for. They want quizzes, questions and multimedia. And they want interesting content. You have to obsess about your social media metrics. Social media referral traffic and our number of friends and followers will top home page traffic and unique visitors in two years. The trend is pretty clear. Just watch.
AR-141219894Visual content: Studies have shown that social media readers engage at a high rate with graphics. But how many newspaper accounts actually feature them on a consistent basis? Hardly any. I went through the last 30 posts on the New York Times’ Facebook page without seeing a single graphic. I bet I could have flipped through another 30 and would have found the same. GateHouse’s corporate content team put together a really nice webinar recently on five ways you can use digital visualization tools. We tested a group of these tools at a handful of our weekly newspapers in New England. While some were easier to use and more effective than others, the reaction across the board was that they were valuable. A good example where data visualization really works is this story by the Lexington Minuteman, a weekly GateHouse paper in New England, that looked at how the city’s changing demographics aren’t necessarily showing up on the town’s government boards. A data chart, which was made with a digital visualization tool, really tells the story.
Posting the chart on social media with a link to the story would have been a very engaging way to have connected with a younger audience as opposed to just posting the story. Simply ensuring that digital visualization tools are used a few times a week as part of your planning processes could go a long way in improving storytelling and creating a form of content we are all aware is hot in social media and works well with millennials.

Focus on emotion: I wrote earlier this year that BuzzFeed tried to accomplish a few goals in every story or list they write:

— This story expresses my identity better than I can.
— This story shows a view that I have that I want you to understand.
— This story made me feel something, and I’d like you to feel the same thing.

BuzzFeed’s model isn’t just about cute cat videos but topics that make you feel something. Often we think of our content evoking outrage when you think about the emotion that comes from what we write. While that is definitely part of our watchdog role and something that millennials would identify with, emotional connection goes way beyond investigative journalism. It’s about human interest pieces, pride in a neighborhood or asking readers to name their favorite burger joint or the best high school football team in school history. Emotion comes in all sizes and forms and can be investigative and light.

Connecting with millennials isn’t rocket science. And today, I don’t think it’s about creating products for them, but rather smart content that’s interesting, takes social media into account and is visual. Our content has to be sharable and enjoyable. That starts by making good decisions about what you cover, how you cover it and how engaged you can get in social media. While Ken Doctor’s data sure shows an ugly picture, the positive angle to all of this is that we know where millennials are, we just have to create the content and experience that they want.

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