Social media delivers news fix to ‘Generation Z’ amid age divide

Report finds interest in the news among Irish people aged 18-24 has declined

Irish 18-24-year-olds say social media is their main way of consuming news. Photograph: Peter Byrne / PA

Irish 18-24-year-olds say social media is their main way of consuming news. Photograph: Peter Byrne / PA

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Social media is increasingly the main source of news for Irish 18-24 year-olds, according to the Reuters Digital News Report 2020, with this so-called Generation Z leading a “rapid” rise among those who identify smartphones as their main device for consuming news.

The study highlights a distinct age divide in news consumption. While 46 per cent in the 18-24 age category say social media is their main source of news, up from 43 per cent, this tails off to just 3 per cent for over 65s. The extent to which younger people will migrate to other sources of news as they get older is “not yet clear”, the report said.

Among 25-44 year-olds, digital news media (excluding social media and blogs) was the main source, while television news is the main source for over-55s. While TV remains the main source of news overall, radio continues to poll strongly in Ireland.

Podcasts are still on the rise, with 40 per cent saying they had listened to one in the past week. But while 72 per cent of the 18-24 age group had done so, this dropped to as low as 16 per cent for over-65s.

The Irish research, part of a global study by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism and the University of Oxford, was funded by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland and conducted by the DCU Institute of Future Media and Journalism (FuJo) in January and February.

Generation Z

The report found that interest in the news among 18-24 year-olds has “worryingly” declined over the past five years, although remains higher here than in the UK. Irish affinity with local news also compared well to the rest of the world.

“Unsurprisingly, Generation Z is highly active on social media and in particular on YouTube and TikTok where they can engage with news in novel ways and participate in content creation with peers,” said Dr Jane Suiter, director of DCU FuJo.

Generation Z is less trusting of news media than other age cohorts, but it is also the least concerned group about what is real and fake on the internet in general.

One positive for news organisations as they seek to build on digital subscription businesses is that younger people are more inclined to pay for news online than older age groups. Some 12 per cent of Irish people said they paid for news online, “static” compared to last year’s study.

However, Dr Suiter said there had been a “noted uptick” in traditional media consumption since the Covid-19 crisis and cited the launch of Independent.ie’s paywall for premium content, and the growth in subscriptions at The Irish Times.