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Why younger audiences avoid news

By Kirsten Eddy
23 August 2022   |   4:39 am
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 per cent of social natives...

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 per cent of social natives (18 to 24s) across 12 markets now using social media as their main source of news, compared with 34 per cent, who prefer to go direct to a news website or app.

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.

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

And while 25 to 34s have largely embraced many of the same networks as social natives in their daily lives and news habits, they have remained much more loyal to Facebook (9pp higher for news than social natives) – the network this cohort largely grew up with – and have been slower to move to new networks like TikTok (5pp lower for news than social natives).

What makes these networks so appealing to some younger audiences? Qualitative interviews reveal that they are drawn to the informal, entertaining style of visual media (and particularly online video) platforms – describing it as more personalised and diverse than TV, as a resource for rapidly changing events such as the Russia–Ukraine conflict, and as a venue for niche interests, from pop culture to travel to health and well-being.

AND yet, 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 per cent) of both 18 to 24s and 25 to 34s across all markets saying they trust most news most of the time, compared with nearly half of those 55 and older (47 per cent). 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 10 under 35s often or sometimes avoid the news now, compared with a third (36 per cent) of those 35 and older.

Why is this happening? Most often, younger audiences (under 35) say the news has a negative effect on their mood (34 per cent) and, most recently, that there is too much news coverage of topics like politics or Coronavirus (39 per cent). In particular, the longstanding criticism of the depressing or overwhelming nature of news persists among young people. For instance, in the UK, two-thirds (64 per cent) of news avoiders under 35 say the news brings down their mood. Our qualitative research participants described forming habits of avoiding this negativity.

Young people, particularly digital natives (27 per cent), also at times avoid the news because they perceive it as biased or untrustworthy. As under 35s grew up in the digital age and have been socialised by older generations to be critical of the information they consume, our qualitative research suggests they take a particularly sceptical approach to all information and often question the ‘agenda’ of purveyors of news. In this sense, mainstream news brands are not inherently more valued for impartiality by some young people, and their wariness of bias at times pushes them away from consuming news altogether.

Yet many young people are not necessarily avoiding all news. In fact, many of them are selectively avoiding topics like politics and the Coronavirus specifically. As the Executive Summary notes, these patterns of selective news avoidance are not limited to younger audiences. But our qualitative research suggests that, among these groups, perceptions of political news are intrinsically tied to other themes of news avoidance: beliefs that it is particularly negative, that there is nothing they can do with the information, or that it is less trustworthy than other forms of news. Rather than simply avoiding news, there is ‘news to be avoided’.

What is news to young people?
These perceptions of too much newsroom attention going towards topics like politics and Coronavirus also reflect younger audiences’ broader desire for diverse news agendas, voices, and perspectives. As we discuss throughout this report, young people – particularly 18–24s – have different attitudes toward how the news is practised: they are more likely than older groups to believe media organisations should take a stand on issues like climate change and to think journalists should be free to express their personal views on social media.

On top of that, many young people have a wider definition of what news is. As our qualitative research reveals, younger audiences often distinguish between ‘the news’ as the narrow, traditional agenda of politics and current affairs and ‘news’ as a much wider umbrella encompassing topics like sports, entertainment, celebrity gossip, culture, and science. This is reflected, for instance, in the examples of ‘news’ our interview participants shared: from stories about the world’s biggest strawberry to pollution on local beaches to the latest episode of Big Brother.

Given that young people are generally less interested in news and access it less frequently than older audiences, it is not surprising that under 35s express lower interest in most news topics generally. But they are particularly less likely to be interested in what they consider to be ‘the news’ – traditional beats like politics, international, and crime news – and tend to be less inclined to consume Coronavirus coverage. Instead, under 35s are more likely to be interested in ‘softer’ news topics: entertainment and celebrity news (33 per cent interested), culture and arts news (37 per cent), and education news (34 per cent).

Even many of the types of news often deemed ‘young’ topics – for instance, mental health and wellness, environment and climate change news, and fun news or satire – do not necessarily translate into greater interest among all young people across all markets (or at least, interest in news, specifically, about these topics). Younger audiences on average don’t have much higher interest than older audiences in news on social justice issues, for instance, though this interest varies dramatically by market. Interest in social justice news is nine percentage points higher among under 35s than those 35 and older in the UK, on a par across both groups in Brazil, and seven percentage points lower among under 35s in Germany. As we discuss in a later section, those 35 and older are also more likely than younger people to say they are interested in environment and climate change news.

Motivations to access news
This year, we also asked about why people personally choose to keep up with the news. All age groups see the news as equally important for learning new things, but news users under 35 are slightly more motivated than older groups by how entertaining the news is and how sharable it is, and they are slightly less motivated than older groups by a sense of duty to stay informed of news or by its personal usefulness to them.

However, the extent to which young people feel a sense of duty to consume news looks very different across countries – for instance, with huge gaps between those under versus over 35 in Brazil and the US but very small gaps by age in France and Japan. And in the UK, a sense of duty to be informed and feeling the news helps them learn new things are tied for the top motivation for consuming news among under 35s. Together with insights from our qualitative research, this suggests that young audiences engage in a sort of mix-and-match of motivations depending on their interests as well as the types of content they are thinking of or seeking out.

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