The myth goes that young people have a short attention span, no idea about what is going on in the world, and deformed thumbs from eternally scrolling on TikTok.
But look closer and you find audiences in their late teens and early 20s eagerly looking for quality news reporting. The problem is that, unlike their older counterparts, they did not grow up watching the news at six with mum and dad. Young people are used to having tiny screens of their own and a besuited anchor gravely reading from the autocue just does not cut it with them.
"Young people want quality news content, they are crying out for more information, but they find the current offering boring," says Warren Nettleford, an award-winning broadcast journalist and co-founder of a social-first news service Need to Know.
Before launching this new venture, Nettleford worked for every major UK news broadcaster: BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5. Although his experience taught him high standards of news reporting, he also became aware of just how much the TV news model is divorced from what young people consume on social media.
So, together with his friend Seth Goolnik, he decided to self-fund a new kind of impartial, quality news channel fit for the digital generation. To make their project stand out, they decided from the outset to follow the Ofcom Broadcasting Code, although they did not need to do that since they publish exclusively on social media.
This approach helped them win the Royal Television Society Award for Digital Innovation and continue with the second season, supported by the Google News Initiative.
"I am funny and whimsical," says Nettleford about his presenting style. "I try not to look like I know everything and I hope my sense of humour comes across."
Personality is everything on social media, which is partly why the formality of TV news feels out of place and does not translate to the everyday life of young people.
Need to Know has a distinctive style that uses bright colours, flashing lights and banners for a total sensory overload. However, these features are used cleverly to highlight or repeat important points that could otherwise be missed in the fast-paced clips.
Topic-wise, the news covers the same stories as mainstream media - the Levelling Up programme, the royal family or questions around cannabis.
Although the episodes provide a good overview of the news, those few minutes are not enough to explain stories in depth. That does not mean that young viewers are not interested though - a long video format is proving popular on channels like YouTube and Nettleford is looking to explore short documentaries in the future.
16 -24-year-olds are the primary demographic for Need to Know, but followers over 30 are not unusual. While the first series was published on Snapchat, the channel has now migrated to YouTube. Apart from that, it has a surprisingly sparse presence on other social media where you would expect to see it, like Instagram and TikTok.
Nettleford says that although being in the same spaces as your audience is important, "you should never think that you can get all your news from TikTok. You need to point people towards more journalism.
"We need to provide young people with impartial information on social platforms. We need a conversation about the future of media in the UK, the role of social media and search engines. If we don’t, we will have a generation of young people who are not news literate and won’t understand the difference between true and fake information. It’s a challenge for regulators," he adds.
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