Millenials and the Changing Landscape of News Consumption

In Journalism, Lifestyle by UFSocial Staff

by UFSocial contributor Daniela Circonciso

Millennials have been long criticized for their work habits, mindset and values. A popular TIME story from 2013 titled “Millennials: The Me Me Me Generation” rips into millennial identity as narcissistic and entitled. Researchers and social critics have worried that this generation born between 1980 and 2000 is less interested in news than those who grew up in the pre-digital age. There are concerns over the future of news due to the seeming disconnect and assumptions that millennials are less aware, more passive and their approach to news is simply incidental. Newer research is challenging this view.

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Consider the 2010 Pew Report which characterizes millennials as “more ethnically and racially diverse than older adults,” “on track to become the most educated generation in American history” and “technologically exceptional.” Because millennials are digital natives, their consumption habits are unique when compared to other generations. Millennials have an expectation that news should be catered and delivered to them based on their interests, preferences and trends.  According to a study by the Media Insight Project, “This generation tends not to consume news in discrete sessions or by going directly to news providers. Instead, news and information are woven into an often continuous but mindful way that millennials connect to the world generally, which mixes news with social connection, problem solving, social action, and entertainment.”

Rather than a “newsless” generation, millennials are changing how we consume news more broadly. Millennials are not dependent on a single source for news, instead where they go is topic driven. Older millennials engage more actively in seeking news, while younger consumers tend to let news find them. Overall they employ a mix of both methods, as well as a mix of platforms and activities according to the study.

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As audiences shift their consumption of news into a mix of digital and traditional environments, the psychology of engagement is also changing. The digital environment not only provides access to news seekers but recent findings from the Pew Research Center indicate that 20 percent of Americans have changed their views on an issue because of something they’ve seen on social media. This is not incidental. In an interview with two millennials who work in marketing at Broward College in South Florida, they describe their unique approach in learning about current events.

The shift in news consumption among millennials is not passive or simply an entitled expectation that news is supposed to find them. In fact this shift is prompting more activism and participation.

When millennials look for news they do so actively or purposefully. In addition to informing themselves about issues, they share information among their networks, prompt petitions and look for ways to solve problems. They have changed the way we solve issues but not just by relying on big institutions. The rise of digital and crowd funding platforms – digital activism – is changing society helping to mobilize thousands of supporters to a diverse range of causes.

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It’s no secret that millennials have experienced the results of failed policies and economic downturns. Issues such as rocketing prices in funding education, unemployment and broader societal issues have prompted a change in the social fabric. In his book, Fast Future: How the Millennial Generation is Shaping our World, author David Burnstein discusses how millennials are more idealistic, pragmatic and committed to social action: “Unlike the boomer generation, our commitment to social change is not rooted in a specific event or piece of legislation (i.e. the Civil Rights Act or the War in Vietnam), our commitment is to issues: environmental justice, greater economic opportunity, more equal education, long term fiscal sanity, and a more stable and peaceful world.” Burnstein, a millennial himself says that Boomers have been criticized for ‘selling out’ as they abandoned their activism when they entered mainstream professions. For him, the millennial agenda is much broader, “so it’s not far-fetched to expect many millennials to be working on these issues for the rest of their lives.”

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Image via Buzzfeed: Take the quiz: http://bzfd.it/2fFmWSy

These idealistic changes or what Burnstein refers to, as “pragmatic idealism” demand that millennials work with, within and outside our society’s big institutions in order to make change. Thus, the obsession with selfies and personal branding can actually be practical in a larger sense. It means that millennials don’t see themselves as just consumers of news but also as newsmakers. Similarly, changing attitudes along with the increase of mobile technology is giving rise to citizen journalism.

The movement towards participatory news has expanded concerns for the news organizations that make use of citizen journalism through digital media. While citizens rely on journalists to fact-check, and provide context for news items, the 24/7 cycle of information delivery, and varying perspective of issues make citizen journalists necessary.

Digital news has expanded beyond millennial audiences but millennials are influencing digital media habits more broadly. The rapid expansion of digital news is changing our own media habits as we increasingly rely social media for news. This, just like citizen journalism brings ethical implications. As Facebook has expanded into the news market they have also exposed themselves to a flurry of controversy with concerns over fake new stories, click baiting and misleading content. The issue of content curation is a slippery slope for social platforms considering that they are not directly in the news business. Facebook says it that it has taken steps to prevent “false or misleading content from appearing” in its trending topics but several fake stories have done just that over the past few months.

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Following widespread criticism concerning Facebook’s News feed and its Trending feature for proliferating misleading information following the U.S. election, a Facebook vice president stated that the company will work to combat hoaxes. Damon Beres of Mashable makes the argument that Facebook should eliminate its news feed altogether since it cannot differentiate from real from fake news:

“[Facebook] has failed our bitterly divided country through its News Feed, which has weighed legitimate, reported information from good news organizations against propagandistic junk written by trolls and found there is no difference.” – Damon Beres, Mashable

Who is responsible for maintaining journalistic standards in this case? This question has yet to be resolved. The issue of trust can be a deal breaker for millennials and others. Britney Barioli in our interview mentioned that she get’s much of her digital news from Snapchat rather than Facebook.  Snapchat has a very different presentation of news when compared to Facebook, it certainly does not curate content in the same way. I believe if the issue of trust is not resolved quickly, Facebook may have made a bad investment in news. Millennials and the generations that follow will greatly influence that decision.

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UFSocial Staff