Guest column

Engaging the next generation of news consumers


Social media and the internet have fundamentally disrupted how news is consumed and how that news is monetized. News consumers are increasingly reading their news on social sites, enabling social platforms to reap the benefits while leaving traditional media organizations to fend for themselves.
As a result, we’ve witnessed recent layoffs and major cutbacks at traditional media organizations, such as the LA Times, Vice Media, Sports Illustrated, and BuzzFeed, to name a few. This is not an aberration, but a consequence of a decade-long change in news consumption habits.
Traditional media organizations have tried to adapt. More newspapers offer subscriptions and put their content behind a paywall. Others have tried increasing the power of their digital ads. Some media companies, such as Buzzfeed, leaned into social media, centering their business model around redirecting traffic from social media to their website to monetize using their own digital ads. This worked for a time, but ultimately failed when social media platforms reconfigured their algorithms to deprioritize news.
To make matters worse, a recent Pew Research article found that Americans are not following the news as intently as in previous years. Only 38% of Americans say they follow the news closely, compared to 52% in 2018.
How do we solve this problem? More specifically, how do we ensure the long-term viability of the media industry by reengaging the next generation of news consumers so they can be contributing members of our community?
Steve Jobs, the cofounder of Apple and one of the best to understand customer experience, said the following at the 1997 Apple Developers Conference: “One of the things I’ve always found is that you’ve got to start with the customer experience and work backwards for the technology. You can’t start with the technology and try to figure out where you’re going to try to sell it.”
This mentality has helped propel leading tech companies forward, but can be applied in other industries as well, as Eric Ortiz argued in a recent Southwest Connector opinion piece. (Read it yourself at
Traditional media has been asking the question, “How can we get more people to read our product?” However, to engage the next generation of news consumers, we need to ask the question, “What type of a product can we design that news consumers will want to use?”
We should not expect the next generation of news consumers to pick up the morning paper or turn on the 11 o’clock news as previous generations have.
Instead, the next generation has shown they prefer to consume their news in a format similar to social media. Although it wasn’t designed to be a news source, social media is the second most common source for Americans to find their news, ahead of newspapers, local TV, and network TV.
Social media users prefer the convenience, speed, and social aspects of consuming news on social platforms. As a result, 32% of TikTok users under the age of 30 now use it as a primary source of news, a 23% increase from 2020.
While social media has undeniably played a role in reshaping news consumption, it presents serious challenges. A Pew study found users’ number one dislike about consuming news on social media is the inaccuracy of information. Pew also found those who depend on social media for political news have less political knowledge than most other groups. This is no surprise given anyone can build an audience on social media platforms regardless of their credentials.
The prevalence of misinformation and disinformation on social media is a serious concern, as is the negative impact it can have on polarization, radicalization, and mental health concerns, to name a few.
However, as Frances Haugen, the former Facebook Product Manager, said in her 2021 testimony to Congress, “These problems are solvable. A safer, free-speech respecting, more enjoyable social media is possible.”
I agree. It’s possible to design a platform for news content using a consumer-focused approach, as Jobs calls for, benefiting both the consumer and the news organization without sacrificing the quality of the information or the safety of the users.
In fact, Ambit Media Company is a new tech startup I’ve launched for Minnesotans to connect with local content from trustworthy sources, including the Midway Como Frogtown Monitor, Southwest Connector, and Longfellow Nokomis Messenger, while implementing safeguards to protect against online harms common on social media.
Ambit uses the tools of social media to bridge the gap between traditional media and the next generation of news consumers while compensating journalists for the posts shared on our platform.
Social media has fundamentally disrupted how news is consumed, but the news industry can not only survive, but thrive, if we take a consumer-focused approach to redesigning local news.
Prior to starting Ambit, Chuck Peters was a Big Four Consulting Manager in the Data & Digital Trust practice advising the Big Tech industry through the dynamic internet regulatory landscape to create safer digital experiences for everyone.


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