Feb 16, 2024 - Business

How Gen Z gets its news

Illustration of teens on smartphones collaged with smiley and TikTok stickers and a screenshot of a TikTok video.

Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios

For Gen Z, catching up on the news is often a side effect of time spent on social media apps like Instagram and, in particular, TikTok — and media outlets are adapting to serve that behavior.

Why it matters: "Gen Z is being fed the news whether they want it or not," Stephanie Kaplan Lewis, CEO of the college-aged media portfolio Her Campus Media, tells Axios, noting that Gen Z news consumers are less likely than Millennials to visit trusted news sources directly.

  • Multiple polls have found TikTok to be the top source of news for Gen Z, and an increasingly popular source for Americans overall.
  • A 2023 Pew survey found that one-third of adults under 30 regularly scroll TikTok for news, up 255% since 2020.

What they're saying: "Social media has become a point of discovery for everything — for interests, for influencers, for news," says Ziad Ahmed, CEO of Gen Z-focused JUV Consulting. "But that doesn't then mean that we're not doing further research or having further conversations."

  • Both Kaplan Lewis and Ahmed cited TikTok as a search engine for Gen Z, where they can watch multiple points of view, including personal stories, on particular news topics.
  • "We're seeing so many phenomenal, gifted Gen Zers and young people take the microphone and tell their own stories," Ahmed says. "We learn in the third grade that a primary source is the best source."
  • However, as with platforms like Facebook that drove news consumption for older generations, the rise of TikTok as a news source has led to concerns around misinformation.

What's happening: Media outlets geared to younger audiences have shifted to posting explainer videos on TikTok or text-based posts on Instagram.

  • Some outlets like Australian news publisher The Daily Aus and U.K.-based The News Movement have staffers film themselves speaking to a smartphone and package it with graphics and related videos — a modern take on TV news.

Yes, but: There's an ongoing movement toward being more intentional about social media and smartphone usage.

  • "Almost everyone our age recognizes we're addicted to our phones," says Jack Winston, the 28-year-old CEO of BePresent, a startup for helping people reduce screen time. "Social media has been made intentionally addictive using powerful psychological techniques."
  • Media startup RocaNews has mimicked language-learning app Duolingo with rewarding good behavior, in this case purposeful news consumption.
  • "The best news [consumption] wouldn't just be digestible," RocaNews president Max Frost told Axios last November. "It would be enjoyable, fun, rewarding."

Go deeper: Introducing Gen Alpha

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