Engaging Gen Z. One media expert’s guide to attracting younger audiences


These days, there’s no shortage of options for news and information, but that also means getting noticed is tougher than ever before. That is why it helps (and is more important) to not only know your audience —who they are — but to know what motivates them and what can pique their interest.

Ethar El-Katatney, a news product strategist at Bloomberg, created a guide to one of the more coveted audiences: Gen Z. “Attracting Young(er) Audiences: A Guide for Small(ish) Legacy Organizations" draws from her experience working in the digital space since 2013.

“I feel like a lot of the training I've been asked to give or a lot of workshops kind of always centered around, how do we attract young audiences? How do we make it innovative, exciting? How do we make it stand out in the middle of all this other fun content, especially when our content is news, which is most depressing?” said El-Katatney.

She answers these questions in the 57-page guide, filled with case studies and different challenges news organizations have had to overcome. There is no magic formula for capturing Gen Z, but there are a few guidelines news organizations might consider.

Knowing the Gen Z audience is an obvious goal, but there are harmful stereotypes that paint Gen Z as a disinterested audience. According to the PEW Research Center, members of Gen Z are more racially and ethnically diverse than any previous generation, and they are on track to be the most well-educated generation yet.

El-Katatney said the challenge is making the content interesting for the Gen Z reader, meaning that the content must have some utilitarian function or practical application.

One exercise listed in the guide is called “social listening,” or asking questions of your audience — questions like “What do you feel isn’t being covered? What do you like about where are you reading us? Where are you watching us?”

News organizations can also gain insight from social listening after a story is published by looking through comments and messages and answering readers’ questions.

It just means thinking of your audience as an active part of your reporting process and taking that equally seriously as we do our sourcing and visuals. Because sometimes the greatest stories come from that,” said El-Katatney.

As for engagement and reaching the Gen Z audience, El-Katatney notes that techniques and platforms evolve quickly, and she encourages organizations to experiment often.

El-Katatney recalled judging Editor & Publisher’s EPPY Awards in the past and spoke of the quality of the journalism. But she shared a warning for news media publishers — great stories aren’t enough if there is no way to deliver that information to an audience.

“It’s really on us to be ‘with the times’ and for you to make an effort to go to your audience. … It doesn’t matter if you [win] a Pulitzer Prize if your younger [readers] — the people who will be the managers and everything in five to 10 years — aren’t the ones connecting with you. You’ll be obsolete in a few years,” she said.

Victoria Holmes is a freelance journalist and writer based out of Dallas, Texas. Previously, Holmes worked as a TV news reporter and political podcast host at WNCT-TV in Greenville, North Carolina. Reach out to her on Twitter.


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