Reuters Digital News Report 2022: news habits of young audiences

Dr Kirsten Eddy is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Digital News at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism. She writes on the results of the Reuters Digital News Report 2022 and what are the latest habits of young audiences.  

Since the Digital News Report began tracking respondents’ main source of news, social networks have steadily replaced news websites as a primary source for younger audiences overall, with 39% of social natives (18–24s) across 12 markets now using social media as their main source of news, compared with 34% who prefer to go direct to a news website or app. They also find that social natives are far more likely to access news using ‘side-door’ sources such as social media, aggregator sites, and search engines than older groups.

The social media landscape continues to evolve dramatically, with new social networks like TikTok entering the field as well as existing platforms like Instagram and Telegram gaining markedly in popularity among young audiences. As social natives shift their attention away from Facebook (or in many cases never really start using it), more visually focused platforms such as Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube have become increasingly popular for news among this group. 

Use of TikTok for news has increased fivefold among 18–24s across all markets over just three years, from 3% in 2020 to 15% in 2022, while YouTube is increasingly popular among young people in Eastern Europe, Asia-Pacific, and Latin America.

As more news outlets and formats compete for audiences’ time and attention, we continue to see longer-term falls in interest and trust in news across age groups and markets – particularly among younger audiences. Under 35s are the lowest-trusting age groups, with only a third (37%) of both 18–24s and 25–34s across all markets saying they trust most news most of the time, compared with nearly half of those 55 and older (47%). 

Young people also increasingly choose to avoid the news, with substantial rises in avoidance among social natives since we last asked this question in 2019. Across all markets, around four in ten under 35s often or sometimes avoid the news now, compared with a third (36%) of those 35 and older.

As the digital media environment rapidly evolves and more young adults who grew up with social media enter our sample, key differences among younger news audiences continue to crystallise. The point here is not simply that some of young people’s behaviours and preferences are different from those of older people. They long have been. It is that the differences seem to be growing, even between social natives and digital natives. Many of these shifts in behaviours are so fundamental that they appear unlikely to be reversed with time. The youngest cohort represents a more casual, less loyal news user. Social natives’ reliance on social media and weak connection with brands make it harder for media organisations to attract and engage them.

At the same time, younger audiences are also particularly suspicious and less trusting of all information. This, along with the often-depressing nature of news and the overwhelming amount of information they encounter in their daily lives, makes young people sceptical of news organisations’ agendas and increasingly likely to avoid the news – or at least certain types of news. While young people do not all have the same needs, many are looking for more diverse voices and perspectives and for stories that don’t depress and upset them.

Social natives in particular have increasingly moved towards new visual social networks – but they are not simply all TikTokers, nor do they all have limited attention spans when it comes to serious information. Young people like a range of formats and media, from text to video to audio, and are drawn to information that is curated for them. There will continue to be a place for text, video, audio, and still imagery – sometimes all in one piece of content. And there will be a place for both the serious, impartial tones of traditional media and more casual, entertaining, or advocacy-centred approaches to covering news.

Younger audiences’ definitions of what news is are also wider. Recognising the variety of preferences and tastes that exist within an incredibly diverse cohort presents a new set of challenges for media organisations. But one route to increased relevance for news brands may lie in broadening their appeal – connecting with the topics young people care about, developing multimedia and platform-specific content, and aligning content and tone with format – rather than entirely replacing what they already do or expecting young people to eventually come around to what has always been done. At times, this includes continuing with what news brands currently offer, some of which is highly valued by younger audiences. In moments when they feel they ‘need to know’ what is happening – as with COVID-19 and the Russia–Ukraine conflict – young people still want news brands to be there.

Read more on the Digital News Report 2022: here

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