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Navigating Trust: What Gen Z and younger audiences want from news publishers in 2024

Founded in 2020, The News Movement focuses on providing fact-based, high-quality news aimed at younger audiences. In this op-ed, the News Movement’s Lotte Jones explains why trust, authenticity and personalisation are key to winning this generation over. [Mx3’s recent report on Gen Z can be viewed here].

What do younger audiences want from news publishers in 2024?

The challenge of delivering reliable news has never been greater. The internet is big. And it’s getting bigger. Every day users and publishers navigate through a vast ocean of digital information, with over 155 million websites competing for the attention of 5.2 billion users. Over 329 million terabytes are created everyday. 

That’s a lot of information. And a lot of sources. So who do we trust?

The rise of the internet and our omnipresent connectivity correlates directly with a sharp decline in trust in publishers. Around the globe, trust in the media has hit record lows. Every news brand in the Reuters Institute Digital News Report suffered a decline in its net trust among Americans between 2020 and 2023. Engagement is declining across traditional channels. Online channels and digital behaviours have become synaptically tied to our habits.

But we equally know you can’t take everything you see online at face value.

Gen Z and younger audiences are navigating an evolving landscape overflowing with data and misinformation – and learning as they go.

So what do they want from publishers in 2024?

The trust deficit in the digital age

There is a short answer to this question: Trust.

The digital age has revolutionised how we consume information, but it has also eroded trust in traditional media. As connectivity grows, so does the prevalence of misinformation. Generative AI and social media manipulation have become commonplace, leaving younger audiences, particularly Gen Z, caught in an endless battle between the real and the fake.

And they actively participate in this battle. They are aware that potential misinformation exists on the platforms they love, with 50% Gen Zers admitting to thinking that the risks are higher on social media compared to traditional news sources. But they are actively trying to mitigate them too; 60% of Gen Zers have developed techniques to identify fake news and they are nearly twice as likely to fact-check claims compared to other generations. However, for additional verification, they often turn to people like them for the facts, instead of mainstream news.

Still, despite their best efforts, Gen Z, is susceptible to online scams and misinformation. For all their tech expertise and confidence, they still get caught up following fake influencers or downloading malware, in fact, research shows that this young generation is more likely to fall for scams than people over 45.

Gen Z are sceptical digital natives. But these qualities do not make them immune. Just vulnerable in a different way. In a fast-evolving world – trust is an increasingly scarce commodity. And there is value in scarcity for publishers.

Winning Gen Z trust, bit by bit

Understanding the preferences of Gen Z is crucial for brands and publishers aiming to build trust.

Established news outlets face scepticism. TV news is a key source of information for only 20% of Gen Z adults in the US, while just 11% follow current events from news websites. The format of most traditional news outlets does not resonate with Gen Z when it comes to the style of content, how it’s delivered, and what it covers.

Instead, younger generations prefer the familiar faces of social media. News as told by people like them. Engaging content, and a gratifying interaction model.

However, the challenge lies in identifying the trustworthy sources amongst the thousands of creators on their feeds.

Influencers and social media stars don’t hold themselves to the same journalistic rigour as established news publishers. Most platforms don’t have their own editorial agenda. They are not under pressure to provide references or fact check claims. But that is not relevant to the algorithms that promote the content – the only thing that matters is identifying and highlighting the most clickable stories. And sensationalised storytelling tends to attract a large number of clicks, further fuelling their popularity, and making trustworthy content even harder to resurface.

The key takeaway for publishers is clear. Gen Z wants stories for them, told by people like them. Gen Z trusts “people like them” twice as much as mainstream news channels. Which is why the Biden administration is creating a press briefing room in the White House for influencers to “reach young voters who do not rely on mainstream news”.

Publishers seeking to connect with Gen Z must prioritise personalisation. You need to create content on their channels, on their terms.

TikTok is the default platform for many Gen Zers, who are drawn to its raw authenticity. To reach this generation, brands should create content that features strong visuals and sounds – but, most importantly, delivering it with personality.

Make news engaging (and trustworthy) again

As news publishers grapple with adapting to the changing landscape, there is an opportunity to engage younger audiences by embracing different channels and storytelling formats.

If publishers want to win the trust of Gen Z, they must invest in social-first content – without compromising journalistic standards. Meeting both their platform preferences and journalistic expectations.

The media landscape in 2024 demands a delicate balance between embracing technology, prioritising authenticity, and investing in quality content. Gen Z and younger audiences want more than just news – they want a source they can trust. Brands that succeed in navigating this terrain will not only gain the trust of a vulnerable, yet influential, audience – but will also contribute to fostering a healthier society.

Lotte Jones
CMO, The News Movement

Founded in 2020, The News Movement is focused on providing fact-based, high-quality engaging news and linked content on the platforms that young audiences use in their millions. It was co-founded by experienced media executives William Lewis (former CEO of Dow Jones, Publisher, The Wall Street Journal), Kamal Ahmed (former Editorial Director of BBC News), Ramin Beheshti (former Group Chief Product and Technology Officer at Dow Jones), Eleanor Breen (former Chief of Staff at Dow Jones), and Dion Bailey (former VP, Head of Technology and Architecture at The Wall Street Journal). To date, The News Movement has over 100,000 followers across its social platforms and its content has been viewed 40 million times. It has offices in London and New York.