The next generation of news: Are young people turning away from traditional media?

As the gap between young people and the mainstream media widens, Mumbrella's Kalila Welch investigates why a new generation of audiences are increasingly looking elsewhere for their news fill.

If the recent proliferation of new youth-led media online says anything about the Australian media landscape, it’s that traditional media players may be letting slip a new generation of news consumers.

Podcasts and social media have emerged as the news vehicle of choice, with 46% of Gen Z relying on the latter as their primary source of news, according to figures from the University of Canberra’s (UC) News & Media Research Centre.

The strong social values of Gen Z have created the perfect environment for young entrepreneurs to deliver accessible and engaging forms of news media that cut through news fatigue with easy explainers, progressive news analysis, and a healthy dose of humour.

One such platform that is riding the wave of news diversification is social-led digital media business, Cheek Media.

Cheek was launched by Hannah Ferguson and her two female co-founders in 2021, with the ambition to fill the gap in accessible feminist media that helped young readers engage with important news topics through a progressive lens.

Now the sole owner of the business, Ferguson says the platform aims to provide an alternative to the “huge right-wing concentration of media” in the Australian mediascape, without getting caught up in the “infighting” that is often present in progressive politics.

Operating primarily through Instagram, the platform posts left-leaning analysis and explainers on the latest news topics, makes light of politicians in meme-style posts, and invites conversation and debate through question boxes on Instagram stories.

Beyond Instagram, Cheek engages with its audience across several podcast series, a range of merch with radical slogans, a premium content subscription, and Ferguson’s upcoming book, which is expected to land in October.

Interestingly, Ferguson is not afraid to admit her political bias, suggesting that her willingness to be upfront about her political leanings stands cheek apart from the mainstream media, where bias is often hidden in plain sight.

“I think that people are turning to a different style of voice and a different style of platform and delivery because, while I’m not the be-all and end-all of journalism, I’m at least more honest in how I see the world and how my views have come to be, and I’m much more open to the conversation and the dialogue,” she states.

“Platforms like Cheek, The Daily Aus, Zee Feed and other social first platforms are really trying to engage with what their followers want to be reading about in different ways and are listening to the feedback and responding accordingly.”

Hannah Ferguson is the co-founder and CEO of Cheek Media

It’s an approach that has been lapped up by Cheek’s growing follower account, which has grown from 10,000 in its first year, to 70,600 followers at the time of publication.

However, Cheek is just one of dozens of alternative news sources that have benefitted from Gen Z’s growing demand for values-led news coverage and analysis.

These span across the spectrum of politics, yet, it is apparent this new wave’s appeal to younger audiences is largely dominated by progressive content, after The Australian’s youth publication, The Oz, folded less than a year after launching.

The trend defies misconceptions that young people are consuming less news than previous generations, with professor of communication and professional research fellow at UC’s News & Media Research Centre, Sora Park, arguing that these platforms are reaching young people where they are at.

“[Young people] wouldn’t go to newspapers or TV, but they would bump into news on social media, which happens a lot. So unintentional news consumption happens a lot,” she explains, “And they would also actively follow people like celebrities or influence or journalists or news organizations on social media to catch up with news.”

There is also a strong trend to indicate young people are interested in entirely different topics to their parent’s generation, leaving behind hard news and politics for social justice issues that align with their personal values.

“[Young people] have a very different news agenda, and obviously mainstream news can’t fulfill their news needs, so they go to alternative sources,” asserts Park.

“Traditional media aren’t really flexible and adaptable to these generations,” she continues, “but it’s not that they’re disengaged citizens or uninformed citizens, they are informed through different pathways.”

Sora Park is Professor of Communication at University of Canberra, and Professional Research Fellow at the university’s News & Media Research Centre

24-year-old professional Phaedra Carroll told Mumbrella that alternative news sources like podcasts and social media compliment her consumption of traditional, balanced media sources, with her intention being to strike a balance across biases on all sides of the political spectrum.

She enjoys buying the paper every Saturday but is critical of the lack of perspectives present in such traditional sources.

“A lot of the approaches they have, particularly around politics, and the ways they report on stories, isn’t necessarily in line with what I think should be reported on. A lot of the perspectives are neglected, so it’s not very inclusive from my experience.”

Josh Fahy, who is also a 24-year-old in full-time work, explains that while he almost never watches the news on TV or reads a physical newspaper, he does rely on publications like The Guardian and the ABC for his daily news.

“I rarely, if ever, use social media to look for news and analysis. Sometimes I’ll see news on Instagram, maybe from The Daily Aus or Cheek Media’s analysis. If I see someone referring to or sharing news and have some time, I’ll go to The Guardian app or maybe search Google and choose an ABC article to read for more info.”

However, he is not under any pretense that the mainstream media is somehow inherently unbiased, and admires “sources that can admit to certain biases or editorial preference”. In his view, it is up to the audience to “consume and consider diverse information when forming their opinion”.

Interestingly, both Carroll and Fahy note they often intentionally seek out media that offers an opinion contrary to their own.

How are the mainstream news media responding?

The growth of alternative news sources is unlikely to mark the end of the dominance of traditional media. In fact, UC’s News & Media Research Centre has found that mainstream sources have found a slight resurgence amongst youth audiences, with Gen Z’s use of TV growing five percentage points and online up five percentage points, as their main source of news.

But an interest in the majority cohort who rely on social media as a primary news source has led some mainstream media outlets to diversify the access points of their content for younger audiences.

The Guardian’s Matilda Bosely is fronting the publication’s efforts to engage with a youth demographic on TikTok, where Guardian Australia’s account has managed to accrue close to 250,000 followers, while the ABC is reworking its content for its Instagram feed, where it reaches an audience of 835,000.

However, these efforts, so far, do little to address Gen Z’s appetite for issues-led journalism, leaving a gap wide open for platforms like Cheek Media and The Daily Aus to excel.

“[Traditional media] are doing a lot of good stuff in terms of accessibility,” says Park, “but the content itself hasn’t really changed.”

Ideally, for content to hit home it would need to be completely rewritten for the youth audience, creating a volume of work Park says media companies simply don’t have capacity for.

Ferguson says she has noticed “slight changes” in the approach of the mainstream media but feels their attempts to connect with younger audiences “don’t go nearly far enough”.

“I think the biggest issue with traditional media is that they’re speaking to a very particular audience and young people have really missed out on feeling like they’re part of the conversation, and like their voice matters, and that content is being made for them,” she speculates.

And where are advertisers placing their dollars?

While up-and-coming news platforms have accrued large enough followings to be commercially significant, it is apparent that advertisers may hold concerns for the brand safety of these alternative news environments.

Chief operating officer of independent media agency Hatched, Adrian Roeling, says the agency advises its clients to advertise in news environments that are “produced by reputable and well-governed media organisations”.

“Although news environments can generate some amazing attention, we’ll tend to avoid any news platform we feel might pose a brand or reputational risk, through news containing extreme views, potential misinformation, unverified or sensationalist content.”

Roeling also notes that the agency looks to avoid any news content that conflict with the values of its people, particularly regarding diversity and inclusion.

Of course, these considerations are not just relevant in the case of alternative media, but can often apply to major media businesses that may embody particular politics.

Adrian Roeling is chief operating officer at media agency Hatched

The result for Australia’s news media landscape

The mainstream media will continue to hold an important role in society, offering audiences a broad intersection of information that is, by all intents at least, balanced and thorough.

However, it is clear that the youth-led alternative media is offering a supplement to a younger generation who demand more diversity, progression and impact from their news sources, and as such, is posing a challenge to the traditional media cohort to expand their offering, and reconsider their own implicit biases.

“I think what we’re seeing now is this really deep challenge to the widely held assumptions [that young people will follow the politics of their parents],” says Ferguson.

“It’s exciting that young people are asking for more, asking for different standards. Not just that they want better journalistic standards and integrity, but they’re saying ‘I’m going to go and find the creators that challenge me and educate me’.”


Get the latest media and marketing industry news (and views) direct to your inbox.

Sign up to the free Mumbrella newsletter now.



Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing.