By KEITH LINDENBURG
With the South Carolina primary scheduled for February 29, more and more of the Palmetto State’s Generation Z (Gen Z) population will be voting in a Presidential primary for the first time. Known as the “digital native generation,” Gen Zers, who were born between 1995 and the mid-2000’s, have an affinity for “sensory journalism,” news content that engages the audible and visual senses.
This news consumption preference will have a profound influence on their voting decisions.
According to the findings of a relevance study on news consumption released by my firm, Gen Z is no different than any other generation in the sense that an overwhelming majority of them – nearly two-thirds – say that they watch or listen to more news than they read.
However, Gen Z is different when it comes to how those visual elements are configured and enhanced. They prefer journalism that includes virtual and augmented reality.
Overall, the consumption of news is shifting dramatically, from traditional news channels to social channels.
“It’s hard to overstate the role Twitter now plays in politics,” conceded The New York Times.
While news consumption has long been visual, the domination that television once enjoyed is now being challenged by online platforms. Amazingly, nearly half of Gen Z ranked YouTube as their first or second most important news source.
This trend shows clear generational differences. When we asked Gen Z to rank their essential source of news, more than half (59 percent) chose social networks as their first or second most important news source. By comparison, Millennials came in at 48 percent, Generation X at 29 percent and Baby Boomers at only 18 percent.
Entertainment and engagement are increasingly important to media consumption. Our study showed that the younger one is, the more one considers the daily news consumed as “entertainment.”
When asked what percentage of the news they consider is “entertainment” and what percentage is “information,” nearly three-quarters of Gen Z said that the news they consume is 50-percent or more entertainment.
So, as Joe, Bernie, Amy and the other Democratic hopefuls descend on South Carolina and look to rally the support of younger Lowcountry voters, they should remember that this new legion of Gen Z voters lives in an 8-second world of reviewing, processing and deciding on content. Everything is sensory to them.
To retain the attention of these cohorts, the media continues to refine how they deliver the news. And the candidates need to adapt accordingly, packaging their messages in a sensory fashion. After all, they have less than 10 seconds to capture the attention of Gen Zers.
If not, they risk losing an important new constituency.
Keith Lindenburg, a Beaufort resident, is past Chair of the College of Charleston Department of Communications Advisory Council and partner at Brodeur Partners, a strategic communications consultancy.