This past weekend, I took part in a wonderful workshop lead by the Engaging News Project at the University of Texas at Austin. ENP gathered a dozen people from print and digital news organizations to brainstorm on new digital tools to combat political polarization and to engage millennials in the news.
There were many great ideas that came out of this workshop, but what stuck out to me the most were the insights we gained from talking to college students (i.e. millennials) on their news consumption. We interviewed two groups of about 10 students each on how they got news.
While it didn’t come as a surprise that some students reported their get their news entirely from Facebook and other social media apps (Snapchat, Instagram or Twitter), what surprised me was the importance of their peers in recommending what to read to them.
These busy college students said they don’t have time to go to website homepages or seek out news, they expect it to come to them. But they also like it when their friend recommends a story, or are more likely to read a story if multiple people share it in Facebook.
What can news outlets do to penetrate this peer circle a little more?
The obvious answer is to share a lot more content on social, and to pay attention to what types of stories are being shared the most (because, as I’ve written before, readers take a large role in helping our content go viral).
But how do you develop a reputation with millennials who told us this weekend that they don’t like biased writing, and also are reportedly less brand loyal?
This is where reviews of news outlets come in, or specific ratings of articles that you find helpful. This was an idea we discussed that could be done on story pages, but ideally could surface in Facebook next to a share.
The students said they only had time to see what was in their news feed every day, but said they would like to see stories with ratings or news outlets before they shared or read a post.
What was most frustrating, they said, was when they clicked on a link that shared an extreme point of view on a topic.
The idea of adding more ways to rate content fits well with characteristics of this generation, who also use Yelp, Netflix and other digital products that rely heavily on ratings and reviews.
Some might argue that ratings would open up a lot of negative feedback from disgruntled readers, but you could limit this by having readers answer a question like, “Was this article helpful?” And then having them click “yes” or “no.” You could also have readers rate the bias or leanings of a story on a color-coded scale. If both of those appeared at the top of a story (or even better surfaced on Facebook), this would give millennials more information than they have now about your news organization.
Overall, we found millennials eager to engage with news, but wanted it to be easy and convenient for them. And when you think about it, that doesn’t sound all that different than readers of any age.