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“TikTok news consumption up 5x”: How young people are consuming news

Visually focused platforms like Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube have become increasingly popular for news among social natives

The latest Digital News Report from Reuters Institute goes beyond broad narratives about young audiences to find meaningful differences between distinct sub-groups. It divides them into social natives (18–24s) – who largely grew up in the social, participatory web world. And digital natives (25–34s) – who largely grew up in the information age but before the rise of social networks. 

These groups are critical audiences for publishers and journalists around the world, and for the sustainability of the news, but are increasingly hard to reach and may require different strategies to engage them.

Digital News Report 2022, Reuters Institute

The report uncovers changing news consumption habits of young audiences. It finds “greater reliance on digital and social media and a weaker identification with and loyalty to news brands compared with older groups.”

“Far more likely to access news using ‘side-door’ sources”

39% of social natives (18–24s) are using social media as their main source of news, compared with 34% who prefer to go directly to a news website or app, according to the report. Social natives are also “far more likely to access news using ‘side-door’ sources such as social media, aggregator sites, and search engines than older groups,” the authors note. “Direct access to apps and websites is becoming less important over time and social media becoming more important, partly due to their ubiquity and convenience,” they add.

Source: Digital News Report 2022

Use of TikTok for news grows 5x

Visually focused platforms like Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube have become increasingly popular for news among social natives. The use of TikTok for news has grown 5x, from 3% in 2020 to 15% in 2022, among 18–24 year-olds. 

This group has either reduced Facebook usage or never used the platform at all. Meanwhile, digital natives (25–34-year-olds) who have largely embraced many of the same networks are comparatively more loyal to Facebook.

Source: Digital News Report 2022

The informal, entertaining style of visual media along with a more personalized and diverse experience compared to TV are the key reasons that make them more appealing to younger audiences. Text continues to be important despite the growing interest in visual media. 58% of under-35s prefer to read than watch news (15%). 

Source: Digital News Report 2022

What’s driving news avoidance

Declining trust and growing news avoidance are a matter of concern for publishers. 37% of both 18–24 and 25–34-year-olds say they trust most news most of the time compared to 47% of those who are 55 and above. Additionally, four in ten among under-35s often or sometimes avoid the news now, compared to 36% of those who are 35 and above. 

Primary reasons for avoidance include – too much coverage of topics like politics or Coronavirus (39%) and stories having a negative effect on mood (34%). 27% of digital natives say they avoid news at times because they find it biased or untrustworthy. 

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.

Digital News Report 2022, Reuters Institute

However, qualitative research suggests that these groups are not simply avoiding news in general, rather they are avoiding certain types of news. Specifically, news that is negative and they feel they can do nothing with the information. 

Young audiences “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.” 

Under 35s are more likely to be interested in ‘softer’ news topics such as entertainment and celebrity (33%), culture and arts (37%), and education (34%), according to the report. 

Source: Digital News Report 2022

“Broadening their appeal”

Another interesting finding is that compared to older groups those under 35 are slightly more motivated to access news for its entertainment value and sharability rather than for staying informed. “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,” the authors explain.

“Many news organizations are embracing approaches such as solutions journalism around subjects like climate change, that aim to give people a sense of hope or personal agency. Others are looking to find ways to widen the agenda to softer subjects or make news more relevant at a personal level”

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.

Digital News Report 2022

The full report can be downloaded here:
Digital News Report 2022