Publishers Should Probably Start Listening to GenZ in How They Handle the News
Let’s just say that GenZ gets a bad reputation from those over them when it comes to how they see and interact with the world. Those looking to marginalize will often refer to them as the “TidePod generation,” referencing the social media craze of eating the namesake liquid dish detergent.
This ignores the fact that virtually ever generation has been responsible for some pretty stupid things. The truth is that every generation has their duh moments, just like every generation has its heroes and influencers. GenZ is no different. In fact, they’re doing a lot right when it comes to social issues and the embrace and integration of technology.
Particularly when it comes to journalism and “fake news,” well, you didn’t see a lot of GenZers at the Capitol riots, did you? That’s largely because they’re learning how to decipher fact from fiction, real from BS. And if publishers and the world in general knows what is good for them, they’ll start listening to GenZ writers like Maddie Martin, whose recent primer on the WeAreGenZ website tells you everything you need to know for how to manage news consumption. More on that in a bit. First, let’s look at how we got here.
The News Dilemma
Trust in the news has been at an all-time low in the United States for quite some time. And the problem is not exclusive to the US, as groups have used the Internet to spread misinformation all over the world. GenZ has been able to get a handle on it in a way that other generations haven’t because they have grown up with technology and use it in a similar way.
Other generations haven’t gone that route as much. They’ve become settled into their ways and more likely to seek out sources to confirm existing biases based on what they think of the world. Unfortunately, news outlets tend to play into this (think Fox News and MSNBC).
It Is Driven by Advertising Revenue
GenZ has openly hated the level of corporate involvement in politics, but news is political anymore. And news is funded through advertising revenue, which is in the hands of corporations and small businesses. That’s not an altogether bad thing until publishers start to color how they cover the news based on how it will be received by advertisers.
Competition Is Fierce
The antiquated advertising-based business model makes it even tougher on modern journalism because corporations and businesses of all sizes have many more places to spend their advertising dollars than they used to. They can afford to be much more niche. That means there is a lot of competition and a drive to be first or catchiest with headlines instead of ethical and accurate. That works, but only for so long.
Big Tech Has Too Much Say
Another problem that journalism runs into is that of ethical technology, or the lack thereof when it comes to big tech. Parler is finding that out the hard way, and it’s likely the same will happen to more liberal platforms in the future.
Whenever you aren’t exposed to different views, you start to become more bitter and divided to them when you are. Big Tech ensures that you see the worst of the worst. The things designed to get you angry. They do this through algorithms that are not open to the public and designed to be divisive. Twitter CEO himself, Jack Dorsey, recently even said that his own decision to de-platform outgoing President Donald Trump was troubling and that the Parler decision was even more cause for concern and that his own industry had too much power and influence on politics. Good journalism gets lost in this intelligence vacuum created by confirmation bias.
Politics Is Too Much a Factor
Publishers always have a slant these days. There are few (if any) that simply seek to report the news. There’s always a political angle or viewpoint involved, and it bleeds over from editorial pages with regularity.
GenZ Knows Best
So that brings us to the Maddie Martin article, which is a simple primer on how to tell news that is reliable instead of, for lack of a better word, “fake.” Martin is a part of GenZ herself. And what she lacks in experience, she makes up for in a full-sighted understanding of what publishers are up to and what readers can look for to keep from getting suckered.
The first thing Martin recommends readers look for is quality, recognizable domain names. This isn’t completely foolproof, and she never claims that it is. But you’re going to have an easier time convincing readers you’re a reputable source if you’re posting from ABC News or CNN instead of InfoWars.
That said, it’s important to note that no publisher is immune from making mistakes. How you handle those mistakes, however, is important. Never run from it. Be clear about what was wrong, and don’t try to hide it. Readers tend to forgive publications that take themselves to task. At least, GenZ does because they know a certain degree of misinformation is priced into the online news experience.
2. Content Creator
Content creators that go on 1,000-word diatribes over parody news sites are not going to win a lot of influence with GenZ, and the longer they are allowed to go unchecked, the more a reflection that will be on the publication that features their work.
GenZ puts a lot of stock in credentials and expertise. If you don’t have it speaking for you, you’re not going to have much of a future trying to convince them or the world that you take the truth seriously.
Is the content designed to inform or inflame? Martin asks this question and, rightly, urges her fellow GenZers to avoid those sites or at least not share what they have to say on social media that seek to inflame. This goes for headlines as well.
Clickbait has become a survival mechanism for many websites that simply don’t have the talent, resources, or training to offer real news or information that hasn’t been reported better 100 times before. Avoid those types of headlines in the future because GenZ is encouraging one another to refuse those types of headlines.
4. Learn the ‘Keep Scrolling’ Cues
This is really just a continuation of number three, but it’s worth repeating because readers generally make a reading decision based on doom-scrolling. Just going on and on, in other words, until something catches their attention as interesting. Flashy headlines that ask outrageous questions are one way less-than-stellar publishers get you to slow down and click.
They also offer endlessly long content that could easily be summarized in a couple of hundred words because some article on SEO told them longer articles do better. Good publishers deliver immediately on the promise of their headline, and they don’t try to be outrageous with headlines to get a click.
GenZ Might Just Be Able to Save the News, If We Start Listening to Them
GenZ gets blamed for a lot, but they’ve exhibited a much more proficient ability to see through the BS and get to the heart of the news. That’s a much-needed skill in this age of fake news. If publishers value integrity and ethics in journalism, they will start listening closer.
[Featured Image by Wikimedia Commons]