Joyless news watch: inside the belly of the beast

Insider thoughts on news media and viewership

The AP released an article Friday titled ‘Survey finds young people follow news, but without much joy.’ The survey in question conducted their research on a group who ranged in age from16 to 40 years old (Gen-Z to millennials). I, as a streaming news director and an“elder millennial”, as comedian Iliza Shlesinger calls us, can’t say I find this surprising at all.

It’s long been talked about in the news industry: “the death of nightly news”, “the death of print media”, the “death”of a lot of things, and while the “death” of a myriad of issues has been blamed on millennials in the last decade, I’d argue, it is not always true. Things evolve, and yes sometimes things die out, but mostly they change and adapt.News media, like many large corporatized industries, has been very hesitant to change- the major news outlets only recently (in the last decade) have begun investing in working toward the future and trying to navigate the new media landscape, much of this has been done by hiring early embracers of new media technology in news and finally starting to weed out some of those who think there is only One-way things can be done.

What I found surprising in the article was that the survey results indicated that ¼ of the people in this age group “regularly pay” for at least one news product. What I think you need to read between the lines to understand is that while the survey notes that 71%still get a fair amount of their news from social media, that does not necessarily mean that 71% is getting their news from an entirely unreliable source. Yes, disinformation is a HUGE problem, lack of fact checking is a HUGE problem, Lies and opinions are a HUGE problem, but reliable journalists and media organizations also use social media to post their work and information. And to me (admittedly not a statistician) this indicates that the number of people who “regularly pay” for news may rise with more social media engagement from reputable news organizations. I am a member of the “converted” group. While I don’t pay for many news and information subscriptions (I mostly want to disassociate from the work when not there) I have found reputable journalists that I follow on social media who link to their articles or videos can often get me to at least consider converting to a paid subscription for their content.

One of the biggest problems of course is that the big 3 broadcasts are “free” and by standards are still overall considered reputable news outlets, but convincing someone to pay for news when it is readily available for free is a hard sell, especially to those just looking for the basics to get out the door the next morning. This is why many of the biggest news outlets have taken so long to invest in streaming platforms and quality content for social media, because at the end of the day while their news may be “free” to the viewer all 3 broadcasters are huge corporations whose goal is to make a profit. Convincing the powers that be that providing accurate, quality content in news on new platforms is important is nearly as difficult as convincing viewers to pay for the content. News is not inherently a moneymaker, and the big 3 would rather put their dollars into shows that turn profits, but news cannot become a moneymaker, it cannot convert news audiences into loyal brand audiences unless an investment is made, unless professionals are paid, and unless the information is reliable and frankly looks good- this is after all a visual medium. I’d encourage executives to take a closer look at how their  media on social platforms and from their reporters can be enhanced- make sure it looks good, sounds good, and that the information is accurate. This may mean putting a few more boots on the ground, and investing in professional technical operators rather than asking journalists to become a one stop shop. If this content is shared pragmatically the conversion rates of those “young people” getting their news from your organizations outlet on social media may easily convert them to a paid subscriber to your organizations content.

One last thing to note here, in the article the CEO and Executive Director of the American Press Institution notes that in his view there is a need for “news organizations to better explain their role and coverage decisions as well as how government functions.” He feels this will help to combat disinformation and opinion from fact. I disagree, this “explanation”is the role of a college professor, while I agree that transparency is great, but the finite amount of people who would be interested in the “explainers” of the news industry is limited to friends and family of people working in the industry or those who go on first dates with us “SOOO what do you do in news’s?”the idea that anyone who is not an industry insider is going to be interested in an explanation is strange to me. Ronald Reagan once said “If you’re explaining, you’re losing.” We are taught in writing courses “show don’t tell.”We need to work as an industry to explain our stance without explaining our stance, in my mind the best way to do this is to be reliable, consistent, and appealing. We don’t need to overtly EXPLAIN we need to convince you to listen and watch and read by so that you understand, and learn to distinguish for yourself fact, from fiction.

Of course, none of this will necessarily increase the “joy” a person feels while reading, watching, or listening to news, but maybe if these audiences are converted to paid subscribers now, they’ll continue to stick around when there is something in the news worth feeling joyful about.

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