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Shannon Casas: How younger generations get their news and why that matters
Shannon Casas high res
Shannon Casas

Snapchat is a mystery to me.

Facebook I understand backward and forward, for better or worse. I’m spending more time on Instagram than I once did. I understand Twitter but generally have little use for it.

But Snapchat feels a bit like an alien planet — an alien planet where everyone has floating dog ears and big floppy tongues.

For those unfamiliar with this brand of social media, it’s what all the kids are using these days. Users communicate mostly through photo and video, often with filters that apply something like dog ears or sparkly stars to the image. The platform is known for the ability to have messages quickly vanish after users have viewed them.

I recently came across some news about my alma mater rolling out a new logo to some backlash from its students and alumni. The student media group was asked not to livestream on Facebook a Student Government Association meeting addressing the controversy. I’m going to set aside the ethics of limiting access to media for the purposes of this conversation and instead focus on the news platform. Instead of a Facebook Live video, I was referred to Snapchat to follow the highlights.

A little more than 10 years ago, distributing news by way of Facebook, Snapchat or any other social media was unheard of; it’s one of the most transformational shifts in the way we consume news.

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And it’s a driving force in how vastly different news consumption habits are and will be for millennials and younger.

Older generations seek out news, for example setting aside time to read the morning paper, while millennials’ are more likely to bump into a story on social media.

They don’t necessarily spend less time reading news.

Some 85 percent of them report that keeping up with news is at least somewhat important to them and 69 percent get news daily, according to the American Press Institute.

But they consume that news throughout their day across multiple platforms — a click on a Facebook link here, viewing an Instagram post there, watching a video on YouTube their friend shared, and so forth. And the large majority of it is done on their cellphones. I’ll point out here that much of this column was tapped out on my phone.

“News and information are woven into an often continuous but mindful way that Millennials connect to the world generally, which mixes news with social connection, problem solving, social action, and entertainment,” according to the American Press Institute research.

This trend continues with the next generation, those born after 1995: “Media consumption for Gen Z’s is embedded in their daily lives so they are not even consciously making a decision to consume content,” according to a Forbes article.

Younger generations are sometimes derided for complaining that news is boring. For a person in his early 20s without a mortgage or roots in his community, coverage of property taxes and school board meetings has little relevance. This changes somewhat with age. But for the upcoming generations, news organizations directly compete for attention alongside Snapchat messages, YouTube videos and pithy gifs inside a person’s cellphone. If news isn’t entertaining, it may be quickly bypassed in a busy world by generations known for short attention spans — though they seem to have long attention spans for Netflix binge watching and e-sports.

Providing news these generations want to consume is difficult. The Times isn’t new to this challenge, but in 2019, we’re resolving to be more interesting. That may take different forms and a few of these ideas will sometimes push us out of our comfort zone. The end goal of course is to deliver something useful to our community. Let us know how we’re doing with that.

Shannon Casas is editor in chief of The Times and can be reached at Her column publishes on Sundays.