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Young Adults Don't Go to the News, Because the News Comes to Them

Updated: Feb 19, 2020

Today, young adults do not have to go looking for news. News goes looking for them.

Photo by Mark Sarmiento on Unsplash

What do I mean by that? The best way to explain it is by regaling you with a conversation I recently had with a financial advisor I will call “John,” who is under the age of 30.

To set the stage, this advisor works at a Wall Street investment firm, has high net worth clients, has been in his profession for 9 years, and attended an Ivy League college. He is Caucasian and he was wearing a suit and bowtie when I met him. By all outward appearances, this is someone who reads the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) and has CNBC playing in the background at home and at work.

I was at an event in New York City when I met John, who was standing with an older gentleman in his 70s. We started to talk about what we each do for a living and I told the two of them that I run a communications and management consulting firm specializing in Millennials and Gen Z. This kicked off our conversation about the character traits of these two generations.

When I talk about Millennials and Gen Z, I like to illustrate what I am saying with stories. So, I told them one of my favorite anecdotes about the challenges that blue-chip companies face today when they try to communicate important corporate message points to younger investors.

In December of 2018, Reuters wrote a very damaging article about Johnson & Johnson (J&J), which cited an internal memo from the 1970s, among other sources, that indicated the company knew there were traces of asbestos in its talcum powder. J&J immediately went into full damage control by putting its CEO, Alex Gorsky, on CNBC’s “Mad Money” and taking out full-page ads in the New York Times (NYT) and the Wall Street Journal (WSJ). They also issued a statement from the company to major media outlets, which they posted on their own website and social channels.

As a crisis PR specialist, I can confirm that everything J&J’s PR team did was a flawlessly executed, textbook response to the situation… if the textbook had been written in the 1980s.

They definitely reached older investors by going to the WSJ, NYT and CNBC. However, they did not get their message to many investors under the age of 35—nor did they get it to the moms who are using J&J’s baby talcum powder on their infants.

Plenty of media outlets where young adults get their news ran follow-up stories about the Reuters article. None of them ran J&J’s response. It appears as though J&J did not target its response to digitally native press. If you want to talk to anyone under the age of 30 or 35, you have to go outside of traditional media outlets.

After I finished telling the J&J story, John (remember, he works on Wall Street) volunteered for us that he does not read the Journal or the Times. Shocked, the gentleman in his 70s apprehensively asked John where he goes to get his news.

John casually replied, “I don’t go anywhere to get my news. News comes to me.”

You see, young adults do not get news in the traditional way. They get news through aggregator websites and platforms, such as the Drudge Report, the Apple News widget on the iPhone, and the popular social media platform, Snapchat.

John continued, “And, if I happen to miss something, well, if the news is big enough, it eventually finds me.”

You will find that statement shocking if you fall into one or more of these categories: (1) you are over the age of 60, (2) you work at a company that does not cater to young adults, and/or (3) you who work in the news media and have fooled yourself into believing young adults still consume news the old fashioned way—one magazine or newspaper at a time.

This blog post was excerpted from Dr. Joanna Massey’s upcoming book “Culture Shock: Surviving Five Generations in One Workplace.” Please join our mailing list for updates on my upcoming book and to be alerted to new blog posts (click "Contact Us" in the menu above). You can also check out my LinkedIn profile for posts with interesting information on how to navigate the cultural revolution.


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