With social media increasingly dominating the attention of younger generations, news organisations have to reinvent themselves to not only attract their attention but also better represent them as well.
According to the Digital News Report 2019, under 35s are spending more time over the last year on Instagram (25 per cent) and YouTube (24 per cent).
Al Jazeera is reaching the 18-35 demographic through its online news channel AJ+ in a number of ways. Managing director, AJ+, Dima Khatib, said at Mojofest (8 June 2019) that journalists need to move with the times.
"Journalists are not like they used to be, where I tell the story and you listen. That’s finished. At AJ+, we broke the authority of the journalist. We are just like the audience, but we tell the stories professionally," she said.
Their strategy, which has attracted over 11 million followers on Facebook and over a million on Twitter for their English language content alone, has been to focus on the stories that matter to their audience and not the stories that they believe should be "imposed" on them. Instead, the trends in their communities help inform their coverage.
"We only target millennials that live on social media and we do the stories the way they live their lives, the way they see life," she said.
There are times, of course, that what the audience wants, and the stories a journalist wants to tell, may not align.
In this instance, the channel tries to tell them in a way that makes them understand the importance and significance of those stories.
But how can you effectively reach these people? She said the key to being successful online and engaging new audiences is to reflect the diversity of the audience in your newsroom.
"If you want young people, you have to hire young people. If you want women engaged in your content, then you need to hire women. If you want people from different ethnic backgrounds, you need to hire those people."
Khatib added that bringing young people into the newsroom helps foster their creativity. Telling stories on familiar platforms results in more engaging content.
One example would be that of Yasmina Bennani, a French-language journalist, who used Tinder to arrange dates to speak to people across Europe about their thoughts on the EU ahead of the European elections.
Elsewhere, Yara Elmjouie, who launched the show ‘In Real Life’, explores what people get wrong about the world. His episode highlighting food waste in the United States won a Webby in April this year.
The priority for Khatib and for AJ+ is to give new talent the opportunity to develop within the organisation and the ability to experiment.
One of the new types of content for news reporting which AJ+ has seen perform well is satire, with shows on their French-speaking and Arabic-speaking platforms attracting wide reach and engagement.
Khatib said the Instagram-only shows, which are a first for Al Jazeera, give their audience a new perspective on news stories. It has been so successful that the Arabic TV channel has since launched its own satire show.
"You can tackle news and be ethical while having a great laugh, something that we didn’t do before."
There are limitations though, she admitted. As AJ+ exists almost entirely on social media, its ability to advertise is more restricted than other outlets. As such, it relies on their parent company to keep it funded.
"We can not sell ads directly, we cannot have our own sponsors, and so we have to go through social media platforms, where they set the rules. If you only exist in that sphere, it can be very difficult to self-sustain."
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