THE HUNT FOR MILLENIALS: WHAT’S WORKING, IF ANYTHING?

17 April 2015

How to approach the millenial generation? Why are they important to target in the first place? Journalists from three successful startups sought the answers to these questions at the International Journalism Festival in Perugia. Francesco Piccinini, director of the Italian digital newspaper Fanpage, Felix Salmon of multi-platform media company Fusion and Rob Wijnberg, editor in chief of Dutch online journalism platform De Correspondent shared their views about Millenials and journalism in a panel discussion chaired by Mark Deuze, professor of Media studies at the University of Amsterdam.

Piccinini introduced Fanpage, a digital newspaper with millions of followers by saying a digital newspaper never existed. Readers solely focus on content they want to absorb, skipping thorugh whatever they consider irrelevant. The goal is to keep viewers engaged every second, regardless of the length of a report. As there is great emphasis on dialogue with users, the Fanpage also provides a platform for user generated content. Piccinini believes this interaction is the key to success, along with keeping up with everything that’s buzzing on the web or in traditional media.

Salmon agrees that today’s journalists can’t afford to „lay back” and wait for viewers to come. They instead have to be proactive and reach their audience through various channels. There is a global demographic that brands compete for. „We will succeed or fail depending on our reach”, he says. Fusion is also largely aimed at a Millenial audience of those born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s.

Wijnberg, editor-in-chief of crowdfunded The Corresondent prefers in-depth reports on issues that really matter. According to him, these are not necessarily issues of the day; rather things that happen every day and therefore probably deserve more media attention. The Correspondent, launched in 2013, is an author-centered platform fully funded by its members. Correspondents are free to set their own agenda. „We define ourselves as the daily antidote against the hype of the day”, Wijnberg says. Members are all actively contributing experts on a certain topic. The site aims to engage readers to share their knowledge, given that everyone has some kind of expertise in one field or the other.  Targeting a millenial audience is not Wijnberg’s prioty: „I’d much rather have someone on board because they know something interesting than because they are 22.”

An example of the three journalists’ different approach is how they relate to phenomena such as „the dress” that recently caused worldwide controversy (viewers couldn’t tell if it was black and blue or white and gold). Is this seriously news? – Salmon asks. According to Piccinini, it is. For him, news is defined by what people talk about, and anything people talk about is worth publishing. Just like in traditional media, there should be room for hard news as well as light-hearted discussion about soccer, the weather or a dress. The media is complex and everyone can select their preferred type of content. Winjberg strongly disagrees with this; for him, news should always have some kind of social relevance.

But why is it important to focus on millenials? According to Salmon, mainly because they are an unprecedentedly diverse and heterogenous group. Addressing them is a different job than what the media has historically done. Millenials share a genuine desire to change as well as an overall disillusionment in politics. Piccinini agrees that this generation is unique in the sense that it dictates to older generations, not the other way around: „everyone wants to be a millenial to feel important”. While Wijnberg insist he is not trying to reach millenials, he also feels that they are generally wary of institutions. They tend to trust individuals – their lives are therefore more personalized.

Replying on how to reach them, he adds: you should not be looking at what others are doing. There is no formula to reach an audience. Journalism is an art form – you are creating your own art. What people then connect with is your inner passion and motivation. Don’t ask people what they want. For example, nobody wanted a mobile phone 20 years ago. Ask yourself if your idea is worthwile and then try and convince your audience.

Julia Ronyai

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