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News consumption and young people

Neela Debnath

Newspaper 300x199 News consumption and young peopleYoung people are now consuming more news online than before, with an 11% rise since 2009 in the numbers of 18-24 year-olds in the UK visiting the BBC News website, according to figures from Nielsen.

Britain’s top three news websites have all seen a rise in the number of visitors from this age group. The MailOnline, which is the UK’s second-most popular news website after BBC News, experienced a 109% surge while Guardian.co.uk, the third-most visited news site had 48% more young users.

Neil Beston, Communications Director at Nielsen said “Editors of sites and papers have adapted the way they cover news and layout news or show it that makes it more appealing.”

The firm collects data through a panel of 50,000 people who are representative of the UK population, these individuals have a piece of software fitted that monitors their web behaviour and this is aggregated every month.

Along with more young people visiting mainstream news websites, BBC Radio 1’s news service, Newsbeat has seen the numbers of users visiting its website double since 2008, with an average of 892,632 weekly users in 2011.

Newsbeat produces news bulletins for Radio 1 and 1Xtra and has a website with news content, all of which is aimed at 15-24 year-olds. The news output is very much tailored to young people, both in terms of the stories featured and the way in which they are presented.

Rod McKenzie, the Editor of Newsbeat said he has “never yet seen any evidence that younger audiences don’t respond to good, interesting stories, so long as it’s made accessible to them. And that is a fantastic message for anyone cynical about young people.”

“We have countless examples of a wider range of stories that touch our audiences and which they interact to with us very actively.”

Past stories covered by Newsbeat have included ticket fraud at music festivals, car insurance prices and Afghanistan, along with the more typical issues associated with young people, such as alcohol, sex and drugs.

“We’ve done an awful lot of research in this and we know that politics is often a harder sell for younger audiences, by politics what we often mean is what other people mean by politics, which is Westminster politics: the idea of debates in Parliament or men in suits or the House of Lords in action. We know they’re interested in politics but they’re not so interested in party politics or Westminster politics, they’re much more interested in politics, how it affects my life.”

It is clear that the way news is being consumed is changing. The number of young people (+15) listening to Radio 1 has risen significantly over the past 10 years from 11.1 million to 11.7 million listeners per week, while figures from the Radio Joint Audience Research Limited show that nearly a third of 15-24 year-olds claim to listen to the radio using their mobile phone.

According to the research, 14.8% of this group state that they listen through their mobiles at least once a week. Generally, figures show that listening to the radio via mobile phones has increased by 16.1% compared to last year.

McKenzie is aware that there has been a shift in the way in which audiences are consuming news and radio. “We’ve got our online [service] which is clearly, at least in some cases, used by people who don’t consume radio and then from our iPlayer requests we can evaluate how many of them are not radio users and are just using us in an online way.”

He stresses that the key to engaging young people in news and current affairs is twofold. Firstly, news organisations need to use the right platforms. Newsbeat makes use of social media platforms, including Facebook and Twitter in order to reach out to its young audience. Secondly, the language which is used to present the news must hold the interest of the audience.

“It’s about accessibility. If you don’t understand the relevance of, or even, the words that are being used, you’re lost already. People have got low tolerance of that sort of thing, so you’ve got to make it accessible and relevant to people’s lives.”

McKenzie says that in relation to different online platforms “we need to be in that world, and we are in that world and we will keep very much watching that world as it develops we’re there.”

Twitter 300x215 News consumption and young peopleHowever, Paul Bradshaw, a blogger and lecturer at City University London is more sceptical about news organisations’ attempts to engage with youth audiences.

“I think traditionally news organisations haven’t been too interested in catering for younger populations partly because younger populations are less inclined to read newspapers anyway or watch broadcast news and partly because they have traditionally been less interesting to advertisers. So the commercial influence on both sides which has led them to possibly cater less to youth markets and so you get these specialist products, particularly to your very young people like Newsround and First News. I think they have been left behind because of their history, it’s certainly not their core focus.”

Despite, the higher online figures there has been a shortfall in other news formats. Television news has taken a hit with young people spending less time watching the news. According to the figures from the Broadcasters’ Audience Research Board, 16-24 year-olds now only watch a total of 204 minutes of news programmes per month compared to 256 minutes in 2004. This means that they are now only watching an average of just seven minutes per day. There has also been a 4% decline in the numbers of young people watching news programmes since 2004.

Along with the fall in watching news, fewer young people are now reading newspapers than before. Figures from TGI reveal that only 38% of 16-24 year-olds read a daily newspaper compared to 53% in 2001.

Bradshaw believes that there should be more of an effort to target young people.

“If you try to picture what the media landscape is going to be like in 10 years when these people are in their mid twenties to mid thirties and they’re starting families and they’re starting to come into the usual demographic for traditional news publishers. You can imagine a situation where they are still consuming that information through social networks”

“I think that the direction in which news has come from has changed. The numbers of sources have obviously changed and that classic quote from a couple of years ago in the New York Times from a student who said: ‘if the news is important it will find me, it will come to me’.”

“I think we take for granted and certainly younger people can take for granted that they don’t actively have to seek out news that it will find them.”

Image credit: Getty Images

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