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Newswire’s 33rd digital journalism conference kicked off on a rainy London morning with an engaging activity: a paper ball fight. This lively start was accompanied by a thought-provoking question: what do we need to change about journalism today? Attendees gave several responses, but one in particular captured the day’s central theme: how to engage younger audiences.

This debate has been ongoing for some time; in particular, there has been a keen interest in how Gen Z perceives the world, current events, and political matters. Furthermore, social media is rife with Gen Z ‘explainers’ talking about the younger generations’ lingo, lifestyle choices, and fashion sense – and even their sock preferences!

Relatable content is ‘king’

What stood out to me was the effort being made by media organisations, publishers, and academics to understand young audiences. This is about more than just understanding Gen Z; it’s about actively looking for ways to engage with them and make them part of the conversation.

Lindsay McIntosh, Head of News at The Sunday Times, set the stage with her opening address by underscoring the shifting preferences of their audience. McIntosh’s examples of how trusted, high-quality, insightful journalism uncovers the truth and even alter the course of history were impactful and deeply inspiring.

A panel on what Gen Z really wants from news brands led to wide agreement that diversity and innovation in the newsroom are crucial for engaging with audiences. However, it was posited that the key to successful engagement lies in relatable content.

The younger generation is not interested in abstract political news reporting. They crave an understanding of the implications of political decisions on real people’s lives. They yearn for the representation of diverse backgrounds and narratives that mirror their own lives. This recurring theme underscores the urgency of tailoring content to audience interests and experiences.

Invest in digital

One of the other points that resonated throughout the conference is the necessity of investing in digital products to enhance reader engagement and communication. Dmitry Shishkin, the newly appointed CEO of Ringier Media International, delivered an impactful message about the commitment and motivation needed for digital transformation in the industry, focusing on practical applications for AI.

He drew attention to the importance of market differentiation and challenged the audience to articulate their news reporting mission in a single sentence. He also pointed out that meeting reader expectations requires a deep understanding of user needs and diversifying content without diluting the message and remaining original.

Check your facts

It was truly enlightening to hear from three panellists with diverse backgrounds delving into how information is changed, spread, skewed, and reviewed in the age of AI. Despite AI’s long-standing association with misinformation, fact-checking, and deep fakes, the revelation that recycled and repurposed content remains the most prevalent method of spreading misinformation was startling.

This brought us to a point made by King’s College lecturer, Jon Roozenbeek: the inherent human biases that lead us to believe fake news. This is where we all need to adopt Charlotte Mayer’s, social media editor at Bellingcat, advice to “pause and think” before sharing anything on social media, “because once you share something the damage is done.”

The panellists agreed that today’s most pressing issue is the increasingly easy access to sophisticated AI and deepfake technology. The urgent need for action in fact-checking and deepfake identification was another key takeaway.

Overall, it was a brilliant day that provided a sneak peek into what is happening in newsrooms, as well as into the mind-opening discussions that are facilitating better storytelling and keeping the public up to date with trusted information in the correct format at the right time.

If you would like to read more about the day, head to the event’s live blog archive, which shares highlights from all discussions, including social media conversations around them and audience questions.

Ceren Marshall

Ceren is a Senior Account Executive at Liberty Communications

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