During this year’s API Local News Summit on Opinion, Civic Discourse and Sustainability, I heard again and again from opinion editors that engaging Millennials and Gen Z in conversation is an important goal. They want to build deeper and more meaningful relationships with these audiences.
With this backdrop in mind, I started looking for insights in our recent research from the Media Insight Project, a collaboration of The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and the American Press Institute. In 2022 we surveyed nearly 6,000 Americans ages 16 to 40, a scale that allows us to examine in-depth these diverse generations’ news habits and attitudes by a range of factors — including by what they think are important functions of the press.
The findings suggest many of my fellow young Americans think the press should have some orientation toward civic discourse. Some 40% think it’s extremely or very important for the news media to “provide forums for community discussion.”
And there are other points of optimism. If you care about civic discourse, young Americans and the health of local news organizations, here are some other helpful insights we found from the survey.
1) Millennials and Gen Z that pay for or donate to news are more likely to value community discussion
A majority of Americans under 40 pay or donate to news in some form, as our most recent report on Millennials and Gen Z details.
While many Millennials and Gen Z want the same things from news, there are a few interesting differences between those who pay or donate and those who do not.
Notably, Millennials and Gen Z that pay for or donate to news are more likely to say it’s extremely or very important for news to provide forums for community discussion. This is actually one of the biggest differences between those who pay or donate and those who don’t in this age group (43% to 35%). You can see other differences between payers/donors and non-payers/donors here.
2) Millennials and Gen Z that prioritize community discussion are more likely to seek out news than those who don’t
A majority of Americans under 40 say they are more likely to bump into news rather than seek it out, a trend we see in our first report in this series, which explores digital fatigue among Millennials and Gen Z.
(This holds true even for Millennials and Gen Z who pay for or donate to news, and poses a challenge to media that want to engage any young readers and keep them coming back.)
The trend still holds for this subset that cares about community discussion, but to a lesser extent. There are more seekers among the group that emphasizes community discussion than those who don’t think it’s important.
A total of 42% of those think it’s extremely or very important for news to provide forums seek out the news, compared to about 34% that do not put an emphasis on this.
3) Millennials care slightly more than Gen Z about news offering community discussion
Admittedly our reports focus on a wide age range. To help with analysis in our reports, we sorted most findings by three age groups: Gen Z (16- to 24-year-olds), younger Millennials (25- to 31-year-olds), and older Millennials (32- to 40-year-olds).
In general, Millennials care more than Gen Z about news providing forums for community discussion. This is true for older Millennials and younger Millennials alike, each of whom put the same emphasis on community discussion (45% and 44% saying it’s extremely/very important, respectively). Just 37% say the same in Gen Z, which again in our analysis includes teenagers as young as 16.
4) Suburban and urban Americans ages 16-40 are more likely to value community discussion through news
Some young Americans care more about community discussion through news than others.
Suburban Millennials and Gen Z are the most likely to say community discussion through news is extremely/very important, with 43% of that population saying so. Some 33% of Millennials and Gen Z in urban areas say the same.
There are young Americans in rural areas that see this as very important, but it is a smaller number (21%).
5) Racial and ethnic differences are minimal
Some priorities for news media differ by race, but Black, white and Hispanic Americans ages 16-40 each put about the same emphasis on the news providing forums for community discussion.
???? Local news projects to watch
Here are a few examples of projects we’re following that engage younger generations in community discussion:
- In Alabama, Reckon launched BRIDGE Alabama to engage Alabamians younger than 40 in a “different kind of conversation that decreases polarization, builds community, and supports community-led storytelling and news in advance of the state and midterm elections.” The conversations informed “issue guides” and other reporting.
- In California, the San Francisco Chronicle has launched SFNext, a solutions-oriented brand with a strong digital and in-person presence. It leans heavily on survey research and convening power to explore the city’s systemic problems, possible solutions and aspirations for what the city could become.
Have more examples of engaging Millennials and Gen Z in community discussions facilitated by local media? We’d love to get to know your work. Please email Kevin Loker, director of strategic partnerships and research, at email@example.com.