The News Media Has a Serious Gen Z Problem. We want to fix that.
I’ve spent my career trying to help old media companies use new platforms to reach younger audiences. I’ve led social media teams at ABC News, NBC News and Mashable. I created and executive produced the first news show on Snapchat, “Stay Tuned.” And after over a decade of trying one thing is dreadfully clear: we’re not fulfilling our duty to the next generation of news consumers and citizens.
That’s not say some news orgs aren’t valiantly trying. “Stay Tuned” is still reaching upwards of 30 million viewers a month on Snap. CNN had a slew of shows on the Facebook Watch platform until recently. And a handful of publications and broadcasts are now doing a “for kids” version of the news, although that only serves younger, non-teen audiences. (What 17 year old do you know wants to watch the “for kids” version of the evening news?)
The number one flaw is that serving Gen Z isn’t a great business. Sure you may make some money—if you can figure out who exactly will pay for reaching our youngest constituency—but it will never turn into a major cash cow. The $5 or $10 million you could possibly make from serving this audience pales in comparison to the $60 million the “TODAY Show” reportedly made in 2018… off it’s e-commerce site alone.
But we know the fundamental purpose of what we do is to provide our audience with the information they need to live and participate in a democracy. We give people the news so they can make informed decisions about their lives and our collective future.
Is there, then, any more important segment of that audience than those just coming of age, those just beginning to think critically about their lives and futures, than America’s high school students?
That’s why we’re launching a new, news startup to fill this gap and serve this critical audience: NOTICE News. And, because we want to make sure all students have access to high quality news they can trust and understand, we’re launching as a nonprofit.
In 2011, the Carnegie Corporation issued a report about the necessity of civic education in America’s schools. “Guardian of Democracy: The Civic Mission of Schools” lays out six “proven practices [that] constitute a well-rounded and high quality civic learning experience” in our schools. One is simply learning about our government through basic civics classes. Another is participation in simulations of the democratic process, through mock elections and student councils.
But the number two recommendation, right after basic civics classes, is the necessity of young people discussing current events and controversial issues. The report reads:
We need to dramatically increase the attention given to discussing controversial political issues — meaningful and timely questions about how to address public problems. Students should learn that such issues are fundamental to the nature of a democratic society, that they can be discussed in civil and productive ways, that there are strategies for engaging in such discussion, and that these issues deserve both their own and the public’s attention… Such discussion helps young people develop the knowledge, skills, and dispositions needed for effective political and civic engagement, and it also teaches them intrinsically significant content.
This was written in 2011. Before the insurrection at the capitol. Before the rise of meme culture. Just months after the launch of Instagram.
So much has changed in our society, but the need for our students to both know about the news and discuss it has not. In fact, the need may be greater today than a decade ago when those words were written.
Our high school teachers, however, lack resources to include the news and current events in their classrooms. An informal survey of about 100 teachers we did last spring found that they knew the importance of incorporating the news into their lesson plans, but many felt there weren’t adequate resources to do so.
There has been a recent rise of interest in serving younger audiences amid the pandemic, but there’s still a lack of options for older teens. Many of us had Channel One News when we were in high school, which textbook giant Houghton Mifflin Harcourt bought in 2014 but subsequently shuttered in 2018.
Our first project will be a five-minute weekly explainer series for high school teachers to use in the classroom to help students understand the news. Along with it, we’ll also be producing interactive and engaging standards-based resources for teachers like discussion questions and quizzes. We’ll also be posting it to YouTube, so students can watch our content on their own even if they’re not watching in school.
But to do this, we need your help! We’ve launched a kickstarter campaign to raise $15,000 to fund a new set of pilots we can take to potential funders and producing partners. We’ll use that money to hire professional shooters, editors and motion graphics artists to create a proof of concept to demonstrate how vital, possible and important this is for big funders. We estimate it will cost about $130k-$250k to produce a whole school year’s worth of shows.
Please consider supporting us — making a donation of $10, $20, or $50 is the difference between us getting this off the ground! And of course, if you have any ideas about what we should cover, who we should talk to, or what organizations we should partner with, I would love to connect.
There’s never been a more vital time in our country’s history that students not only hear the news from credible and reliable sources, but to learn to talk about it, engage with it, and discuss complex issues in our classrooms. Together, we can help make Gen Z into thoughtful, engaged citizens.