30% of the global population is Gen Z. Time and time again, studies show that journalism frequently overlooks the needs of these digital natives - despite the wealth of online information available to better engage them.

In fact, some of these data findings about Gen Z news consumption are so bombastic, that we’ve used them to inform a short guide on how to effectively engage, reach and resonate with this empowered, issues-driven audience segment.

1. Focus on building trust & transparency

DATA ALERT A big part of digital natives report to not trust the police force, governmental institutions, and the news media industry. According to a report by Gallup, 40% of Gen Z report to not trust the news.

Gen Z is the first generation to not know a world without the internet and social media. Building trust looks different to this generation, too. Drilling down into behaviour on social channels like TikTok can proffer some suggestions about how to gain trust there.

  1. Social media has levelled the playing field. Anyone can post there; anyone can comment there. So, as pointed out in the Reuters report last year they’ve become both “sources of criticism” and “platforms for criticism”.
  2. The same report found that younger people overwhelmingly see criticism levelled against news media and journalists - often by others in news media. It’s not hard to see why trust is hard won.
"Sources and drivers of news media criticism" (Reuters Institute), Dr Craig T. Robertson, 14th June 2023

3. Newsrooms might be central to the conversation around news on Facebook and Twitter, but younger audiences aren’t there any more. At TikTok and Instagram, users drive content.

4. “Audiences say they pay more attention to celebrities, influences, and social media personalities than journalists in networks like TikTok, Instagram, and Snapchat”


News outlets, like Washington Post and The Guardian Australia, have increased relatability on social media by adding a face (or faces) to their brand on specific channels. An interview with the Washington Post’s TikTok guy Dave Jorgenson explores the potential of reaching younger audiences where they currently are (at the moment it is Tiktok, Instagram, and YouTube Shorts):

  • By attaching characters to WaPo, they were able to establish trust among people, especially the young generation. When news spreads that does not sound too real, this audience not only has a brand it can trust - they feel they have a direct line to the people, too. This generation refers to the Washington Post’s TikTok channel as:

“real journalists who you know and can trust”.

Their audience has also developed a real relationship with the characters, commenting things such as “glad to hear you’re back from paternity leave, Dave” or “I love this new guy Jeff”.

These social media channels are affiliated with the parent brand, but operate very differently in regards to the format and the way in which information is communicated, to suit younger audiences. That doesn't mean they have disregarded their main’s brand identity. Over at The Guardian Australia, Boseley and her team strictly adhere to The Guardian’s editorial charter and values, including not covering pop culture, for example.

2. Embrace and utilise digital platforms

DATA ALERT according to a study conducted by Vizrt, over 56% of participants aged 18-25 found it difficult to consume horizontally formatted content not being adapted for vertical viewing, yet most news outlets are failing to adapt to those needs.

According to a study conducted by Statista on the most popular news channels amongst 16-25 year olds, social media outranked every other outlet by far. And amongst adults of all ages, Facebook and Tiktok are the most popular for news consumption. The majority of Gen Z, being the digital natives that they are, spend 4 hours or more daily on social media.

It’s not just that Gen Z are on social media all the time, it’s that on a fundamental level these platforms operate differently, as compared to the more traditional channels used by news media brands.

There’s huge untapped potential here. How do you use social media platforms to transmit your news and content? Vizrt’s insight above is just a starting point: does the format appeal? But it goes further: is what you do appropriate in tone and style for where you’re doing it?


First, check out this blog of ours about six TikTok-videos that prove journalism is right at home there.

CNN’s Max Foster took TikTok by a storm back in 2019 after trying to understand his children's fascination with the newest social media. He was not aware that he was about to change digital journalism. The results were fascinating.

He successfully bridged the gap between young audiences and news coverage,

achieving over a million followers on TikTok alone. Here’s what he did:

  1. Foster’s TikToks are not wildly different to his conventional reporting, but they speak to the core values of the platform: brevity, authenticity and engagement
  2. The production is not slick. The impression he gives is almost confessional: a quick aside to camera, like a voice note. If these TikToks had been revealed as video messages to his kids, few would have been surprised. He has a clear sense of who he’s talking to - and what they need to hear.
  3. There’s nothing kitsch-y, gimmicky or silly about what he does. He’s still reporting the news, but where others grab attention through dances or memes, he’s leant into what we might call the “quick voice memo” approach. It works. Clearly.
  4. Although his handle is @MaxFosterCNN, there’s a separation of brand from person, which is important given what we know about Gen Z’s trust in institutions.


3. Prioritise visual content

DATA ALERT According to Kris Boger, head of sales at TikTok, digital natives typically have an attention span of about 8 seconds.

Visual content such as videos, infographics, and memes tend to be the solution in capturing (and holding) Gen Z’s attention. TikTok is what most people think of, but there’s nothing to stop you from building your own native audience, on your own domain. You just need to apply the same attention to demographic detail as you would if you were jumping aboard the good ship TikTok.


The Belgian news outlet, VRT (and client of smartocto), is a great example. They understood the needs of their Gen Z users and created a sub-brand called NWS specifically for them.

Content here is visually appealing and engaging, and it’s been enormously successful, gaining over 300K followers of mostly young Dutch speakers. (For context, that figure is all the more extraordinary when you consider that the entire Gen Z population in the Netherlands is only around 2 million).


4. Address Social Environmental and World Issues

DATA ALERT According to a recent study from those smart cookies at Pew, Generation Z values standing for environmental issues more than any other generation.

Gen Z is known for their social consciousness and activism on issues such as climate change, social justice, and equality. News stories that highlight these issues and provide in-depth analysis resonate strongly with this audience segment. You’d be right to say that speaking truth to power is hardly a new idea, but this generation finds it particularly important.

It is natural for good journalism to report and talk about world issues that affect us all, however, the newsrooms who are connecting with Gen Z most effectively are those who are finding ways to speak to them specifically. Actionable insights and opportunities for meaningful engagement are a good place to start.


Politico is a news outlet that started in 2015 mostly focusing on curating nonpartisan journalism. In 2024, their strategy is to engage and reach Gen Z through deep dive coverage on issues going on in the world, feeding their need to be informed and updated on what’s going on around them.

→ Their plan: to collaborate with a Dutch university to clarify and ensure accountability for an election process that is somewhat different from a national election. They will also use quizzes and collaborative games to help engage Gen Z in understanding their own political views.

Key Takeaway for you:

recognise which topics matter to Gen Z, and help in guiding them to understand and know about it.


The TLDR (too long too read, yes!)

Here’s the thing about Gen Z and news. Every generation requires a different strategy to catch their attention, and pursuing Gen Z is no different.. The pain point for newsrooms at this juncture is that while some Millennials may have had a smidge of nostalgia for the Old Ways, Gen Z are unapologetically digital natives, and a strategy based on a theory that they may eventually, possibly, maybe find their way to ‘conventional’ news coverage as they age seems risky.

In the spirit of Gen Z, here’s the TLDR:

  • Leverage and utilise digital platforms as they’re intended to be used
  • Social platforms are designed for visual content. Make sure content is fit for its format, platform and distribution strategy
  • Trust is tricky: personalities tend to trump brands for engagement
  • Keep doing what you’re doing; talking and reporting about issues that affect the world, the environment, and everyone in general - just remember who’s reading it

You don’t have to be 21 in order to connect with this generation. You just have to be hyper aware of exactly what Gen Z are interested in, where they’re talking about it, and what their expectations are of you. Really this is no different to any other generation.

Understanding and meeting the needs of users, particularly those of Generation Z, can be overwhelming and difficult. That's where our editorial analytics tool comes in handy for your newsroom. It helps you make informed decisions about what topics to cover, how to tailor them effectively, and when and where to publish them – significantly enhancing your content strategy.

Curious? Get a demo today!