News publishers need to help young people overcome ‘news fatigue’by letting them create their own news narratives through online links and tools, according to pioneering research from US news agency Associated Press.
AP’s anthropological study ‘A New Model For News’shows that while people aged 18 to 24 are interested in news, publishers should be aware of the ways younger readers consume, search for, and share stories.
AP last year commissioned the ethnographic survey into the news habits of 18 people aged 18-24 in six cities around the world, including Brighton.
The study set out to identify the ‘deep structure’of people’s news consuming nature; the reasons behind the patterns of media they choose to see and hear every day.
The participants, who were asked to keep diaries of what they watched or read and were interviewed at length, normally had little time for in-depth stories about complex issues and preferred to skim headlines or read brief updates through email, RSS or websites.
‘I get my news when I check my email”, was the most common answer when participants were asked how and where they get their news.
But the study found that constant email checking was linked to boredom, and users were not engaging properly with content viewed like this.
The researchers found ‘a dividing line between news that was consumed mostly passively (facts and updates encountered from email, portals or word of mouth) and deeper dives that required more ‘work’, as the subjects themselves described it”.
Bombarded by facts
Speaking at a panel at the World Editors Forum, Jim Kennedy, vice president and director of strategic planning for AP, said that the subjects in the study were ‘being bombarded by the facts but they want something more”.
Robbie Blinkoff, principal anthropologist at Context Research, said the research showed a desire among young people for complex and ‘important’stories – they just want it to find them, and read them, in a different way.
He said: ‘We went into it thinking that 20 to 24-year-olds were not that interested [in complex news], but
they do want depth, they just need a little help.’Kennedy said that the participants liked stories on sport and entertainment because the narrative was always resolved with ‘a beginning, a middle and an end”.
‘That is not the case with some of the more important stories that we cover. They would turn off, particularly if they didn’t know where to get the beginning, middle and end from.
‘And the word kept coming up, that they had to ‘work’ to get it”
The study found that young people enjoyed ‘making their own news’and using new media to create their own narratives, and so creating ‘social currency’when they share the story with friends.
One respondent said: ‘News is shallow today. If you want background, it’s up to you,’while another said his sharing of news stories helped him build relationships.
Giving readers access to the online links back to a story’s origin and background is now a key part of AP’s online strategy.
The agency has a company-wide, three-step policy for news coverage. Firstly, for each story, journalists send out a short headline; secondly, they write a 130-word story in the present tense – the sort of length liked by live broadcasters – and lastly, the background to the story or a multimedia feature.
AP executive editor Kathleen Carroll, also speaking at the forum, said that while the first two steps were vital, the third was an optional extra for when reporters or editors feel there is more to say.
She said: ‘The third part can then become any number of things:
A longer story, a multimedia presentation, or just not have one at all.”
She continued: ‘I cannot emphasise the importance of present tense – it’s about news that’s happening now. That was a big deal for newspaper editors who felt very strongly that past tense was what they dealt with.”