Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Is legacy media losing its legacy?

By Shira Jeczmien, CEO, SCREENSHOT Media

A generational shift in the way people consume news is underway in a social media-first landscape that has no respect for traditional media titles. In this new world, legacy media businesses are struggling to keep up, and are feeling the impact.

Reuters Institute recently interviewed 94,000 people globally about their views on traditional media, and found that, since June 2022, 39% had cancelled or renegotiated a news subscription. While the cost of living crisis means consumers are prioritising budgets elsewhere, legacy news platforms have exacerbated the problem by not anticipating the changing demands of their readers — particularly younger people who don’t want content dictated by the political bias of centuries-old media companies.

Gen Z is the key driver in this dynamic. This cohort of 18-24-year-olds has changed how big brands advertise, and they’re changing how the workplace operates. The news industry is no different.

Almost as a matter of course, legacy media woefully misrepresent Gen Z and how macro-trends affect them. A clear example is coverage of rising interest rates and UK inflation. Read or watch any news item on this definitive economic story of the past two years and there’s almost no consideration given to the experience of young people. House prices?

We hear a lot about them, but who under the age of 24 can afford a house? Until recently, there’s been zero coverage on the impact of the rising interest rates on rents (spoiler: it led to a crisis) — one of Gen Z’s main concerns. The impact has been seismic: SCREENSHOT Media’s research of 81 18-24-year-olds found that 47% of renters have had to move back in with their parents due to soaring rents in big cities.

Gen Z aren’t just ignored by legacy media, they’re also chronically infantilised and stereotyped. When legacy media mentions Gen Z, it’s frequently implied that they’re lazy, easily offended or incompetent through stories about attitudes in the workplace, or their so-called addiction to phones. If this is how legacy media treat their next generation of customers, how can they hope to attract new ones?

The news as brought to you by social media

It’s not just the content we need to be scrutinising here — style of coverage is equally important. A survey by Ofcom found that 37% of 16-24-year-olds find their news on social media, compared to 9% who read it on legacy news websites. Gen Z tend to prefer more accessible, digestible ways to consume news, such as short-form TikTok videos, or concise news roundups on Instagram.

Social media is part of the younger (and older) generation’s daily lives, so viewing it as a multi-purpose platform makes sense. While legacy media has spotted this trend and makes efforts to exploit it, many of these attempts are misguided at best and patronising at worst. There are exceptions, notably the likes of Channel 4, but many young people have already made up their minds about traditional news outlets regardless, associating them with control, bias and politicisation. Social media, contrarily, puts the power with the user, giving them more control over what they see, and how they see it.

The next generation of journalists

Since the pandemic, there’s one app that all Gen Zers are on board with: TikTok, which now has 1.7 billion monthly users, and is expected to reach 2 billion at the end of 2024. TikTok enables people to be creative while delivering information — so traditional and non-traditional journalists have flocked to it.

Two journalists who are starting to take TikTok by storm are Sophia Smith Galer, former VICE reporter, and Dylan Page. Sophia and Dylan have 509.3k and 9.8million followers respectively, and create short videos outlining current trends and news, from more serious topics such as the Israeli-Palestine war to light-hearted ones, such as pop culture news. The fact that these two content creators use their platform for delivering news, and have gained such a following from it, highlights that an increasing number of people are reaching for TikTok as a news source.

Creators are also starting to draw in the general public in discussing the news. Today, it’s not unusual to see someone with a mini mic take to the streets, asking passers-by for their opinion on current trends and events, or making short, informative videos on ‘weekly news roundups’. These creators are writing a new narrative for journalism — instead of regurgitating headlines in front of a camera, they’re creatively delivering news in an engaging way while coming across as personal and relatable, ticking all boxes for Gen Z.

A new future?

So, social media triumphs in becoming Gen Z’s answer to traditional news. Next-generation media platforms are also becoming successful by doing what legacy media is neglecting to do: putting a focus on Gen Z, arguably the most important generation. After all, it’s Gen Z who’ll decide where news is accessed in the future.