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Don’t ‘dumb down’ in search for young readers, news outlets warned

Traditional news outlets haReuters Oxfordve been warned against “dumbing down” content in attempts to appeal to a younger audience.

A new report by the University of Oxford’s Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism has said assumptions about what young people want to read and view can risk making news outlets come across like an “embarrassing parent.”

Researchers studied the news consumption of people under 35 in both the United Kingdom and United states of America before producing the report, which has been published today.

As a result of its findings, the Institute has urged traditional brands to change the “format, the tone and the agenda of what they do” in order to attract a generation who feel news “needs to deliver value to them as individuals, not just for society.”

The report states: “With its vital role in society and cultural heritage, the authority of traditional news brands remains prominent among all audiences. But for younger audiences, news brands’ behaviour either on their own websites or a third party’s is not always in line with the content, format and style of how users interact with each particular platform.

“On social media, in particular, this also means a lack of sensitivity to the role each platform plays in the person’s repertoire of social media apps.

“A news item often appears as though it hasn’t tried to adapt at all to the new environment and therefore does not fit the aesthetic, flow and cues of the platform, so fails to get any attention. Or a news piece on social media can appear as though its sole aim is to get the user off that platform and onto the brand’s website. We know that this audience’s goal is a seamless online experience, so this too is usually successful.

“At other times, news brands risk credibility by trying too hard to fit a certain platform, imitating the style of other non-news brands that have had success there.

“Similarly, on their own news websites, more innovative formats targeted at younger audiences often risk going too far or make predictable and not very engaging assumptions about what the audience wants from news.

“Here, traditional news providers can come across like an ‘embarrassing parent’ by trying to be cool or dumbing down content. Equally, though, if done well, some of these formats have the potential to drive direct engagement. This often means trusting the authority and heritage of the traditional news brand.”

The research underpinning the report was undertaken as part of the Institute’s annual news report published earlier this year.

It monitored young people’s use of a series of websites and news apps including MailOnline, BBC News, CNN and Sky Sports.


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  • September 3, 2019 at 9:20 am

    There was me thinking younger people were more interested in taking and looking at pictures of themselves than digesting news in the 21st century. Silly me.

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  • September 3, 2019 at 10:51 am

    Steerpike beat me to it. Far too late. This is why regionals’ websites are chock full of listicles and sensationalist headlines for non-stories. News and income is being steadily sacrificed on the altar of clicks and page views.

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  • September 3, 2019 at 11:18 am

    The “embarrassing parent” phrase hits the nail on the head.

    Titles will share a story about, say, an upcoming KFC opening with the blurb: “OMG we’re sooo stoked for this! (fire emoji) (chicken leg emoji)”

    Or worse still, there’ll be a story about a tragic death accompanied by: “So sad, our thoughts are with the family (sad emoji)”

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  • September 3, 2019 at 11:56 am

    The ‘embarrassing parent’ analogy is a relevant one, particularly when some regional publishers are bringing in paywalls they expect the public to literally buy into.

    Quite often the style used on certain groups social media posts ( no names but ones I’ve seen in the eastern part of the country ) appear at be written by inexperienced young staffers and at odds with their long established brand values,with poor grammar, inaccuracies,click hunting ‘ICYMI’ posts and text speak which really does nothing other than make them look unprofessional.

    I fully appreciate the audiences for the two mediums are different but it must be time for editors to actually speak to each other and define and deliver one uniform brand style if it’s still important to them and not to late to do so.

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  • September 3, 2019 at 12:10 pm

    Jimbledon raises an interesting point. One of the main reasons no one seems to be able to turn a penny from digital news is because there’s no dividing line between news and advertising. Why pay to advertise when news providers will treat your commercial event/product launch as if it was a news story and give you hundreds of quids’-worth of space for nothing? I’m just curious to learn the rationale behind the widespread practice of forgoing actual cash in favour of possible clicks.

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