This is how one of my student’s began the diary of her day’s media interactions:
- 8:15 a.m.: phone alarm sounds, snooze it
- 8:30 a.m.: phone alarm sounds again, snooze it
- 8:45 a.m.: phone alarm sounds again, turn it off
- 8:50 a.m.: begin checking phone
- Check text messages, respond
- Check UNC emails
- Check personal emails
- Check Facebook
- Check Twitter
- Check Yik Yak
- 9:05 a.m. Turn on laptop and begin work
That’s pretty much how she ended the day, too, minus the alarm.
I had 35 students in one of my classes record every interaction with media they had over the course of two days. The exercise surprised most of them with how reliant — addicted, in the words of several — they are to their phones and to social media. Putting aside the above student’s wake-up routine, it’s worth noting where her first stops of the day are not: No newspaper, no TV for news or otherwise, no CNN website. If it isn’t on her social media, she’s not going to get it.
That’s not uncommon, either. In fact, it would be more common if you add two more stops: “Check Instagram.” And “Check Snapchat. Respond to Snaps.”
That shouldn’t be news to news organizations; it’s been like that for at least five or six years. But it should be chilling to news organizations because it means that all the efforts they’ve made to try to get the millennials — and there haven’t been all that many — have failed.
Before you read on, you should go to their blogs, which I’m curating daily here. These aren’t slackers.
There are opportunities — they are a fertile audience for news — but news organizations must change their behaviors and their actions.
Other observations from their media diaries:
* They are swamped with media. One student said she logged one-third of her waking hours interacting – reading, listening, watching or posting – with media. (For the record, I exempted school work from this exercise.) But most of them considered their media diets to be high on fat and carbs and low on nutrition. “My diet is not very balanced. It is missing news sources giving me information-based nutrition.” That statement is from a student who reads the Skimm and checks Google News “incessantly.”
And most of it they used for entertainment. “The most common way I read information-based ‘nutritional’ news was either from short posts from NowThisNews on Instagram or from a front-page story in the Daily Tar Heel. The posts take less than a minute to read usually, and the paper articles take at the most five minutes. At the same time, I spent 45 minutes to an hour watching Beyonce and other artists’ videos on YouTube.”
“This exercise made me consider how much time I would have to take in information-based media if I cut out some entertainment media.”
Truth be told, their media diets aren’t nearly as bad as they think they are. Most of them know what’s going on in the world, either through social media, through discussions with friends or from classes. They simply don’t access a great deal of mainstream news media outlets in their course of the day. They often get the news indirectly. But they still get it. (I was a college student once pre-Internet and they know a lot more about what’s going on in the world than most of my classmates did.)
* Much of them are led to news sites by tweets or Facebook posts. “Then, if I’m interested enough, I will read the entire article at its original location.” But the percentage of times that students click through to news articles is low.
“The first thing that stands out is that I did not look at the news at all in these two days. I spend a lot of time on social media, and sometimes I do get some news from that, but I never seek out and look at news. This is definitely a weakness of mine, and I should probably have been kicked out of the j-school for it.”
* They don’t pay for content. For many, the only subscription-based media they use are Netflix, Spotify or Amazon Prime, and they’re often using the passwords of their parents or their girlfriend’s step-father’s brother or some such. (Note to self: add ethics discussion to syllabus.) Many also say they can’t imagine ever paying for news content. “Why pay for something like a newspaper/magazine subscription or bigger texting packages when we can find ways to find or do it all for free on the Internet?”
On paywalls: “I need to be somewhat judicious with my visits to the Times or the Globe, though, as their arcane paywalls only permit non-subscribers to read 10 monthly articles. This is the most overt instance of moneymaking that I encounter in my daily consumption. It is also the most irritating. Paywalls are the devil’s work. Wouldn’t it make more sense to charge a user after they’ve consumed and enjoyed content rather than immediately erecting barriers to entry and assuming readers will reach for their wallets?”
* They are all over the place on digital advertising.
On Twitter: “They are ineffective as I tend to ignore native ads. When I see a post by someone I don’t follow, I just scroll right past it.”
On Facebook’s targeted ads: “I think it’s better to have something related to my interests on my screen than a random ad.” And another: “I notice that Facebook has started showing me ads of travel agencies and offers in London as it knows that I’m traveling there over Spring Break. I actually like these advertisements because they remind me of my upcoming trip.”
* They don’t go to the movies much. Certainly not on the days they monitored, but in discussions, they said they are more likely to go to Netflix or Google-Plus or Amazon than out to the multiplex. And cable. “The only reason my house buys it is because it comes in a package with our Wi-Fi and costs us each $11 a month. If it didn’t come relatively inexpensively with the wi-fi, which is a social necessity, there is no way we would still subscribe to it.”
* They aren’t reading books. I don’t make too much of this, given most of their book reading is school related, which I exempted.
* Like the Boomer Generation, they waste a lot of time. “We now waste away huge chunks of time perusing the Internet because it’s easier to lie on the couch and look at something in your hand than to actually get up and do something.”
We had a good discussion about who is responsible to add news information to balance their diets that are heavy on carbs and sugars. They disagreed over whether it was their responsibility to seek out more whole foods, or whether it was the industry’s responsibility to serve it up.
They appreciated the efforts that advertisers were taking to personalize products and to slyly position ads so that they would, at least, be noticed subconsciously. While many thought the collection of personal data was intrusive, an equal number accept it as the price of being on the grid.
The challenge to news organizations is to be as aggressive and innovative as advertisers and marketers. Personalization. Branding. Positioning. All strategies that news organizations have been trying to figure out.