Access is a prerequisite for any sort of engagement, one can hardly deny that. But what do I need access to just another mundane piece of news for?
Let’s bite into news philosophy for starters. Newsfeed strikes a happy medium between information delivery and readership engagement. News articles, put simply, ought to exhibit both technique and artistry to become truly savory.
Speaking in terms of conventional journalism, there are a few gainful aspects of reporting and commentary to be covered without conflating them. For once, a provider of Gen Z content is entitled to seek as much density and precision as possible. There is no place for any Joe Rogan-wise shop talk that is patiently lingering in some podcast ambush. More importantly, a savvy journalist is down to grab the reader’s attention by causing their gadget to drop off their hand after they would finish reading and making them stare dizzily out the window to ensure that the Earth keeps spinning the way it was just a minute ago.
This type of overreaction is referred to as “The War of the Worlds” effect. It was named after the apocalyptic novel of the same name dramatized and aired by Orson Welles, one of the most celebrated voice-acting prodigies of his time. Such an exaggerated perception may seem a little too surrealistic by contemporary standards where a recipient’s naivety gets constantly pushed back by supply abundance and the lack of astonishment. The good news, however, is that a publisher’s traditionally egocentric mindset is currently in a slump due to a strong demand for interactive, user-centered content creation. Respectively, each product backlog is bound to place more value on a higher extent of user experience (also known as UX) in the next years.
A UX-centered approach saves Gen Z from information overload
Nowadays, the concepts of user-friendly content abound all over the web place. Launched on a few interactive forums such as Reddit, Quora, Imgur and the likes, and later hopped on numerous trending topics on social media. To name a few, Booktok (who could imagine TikTok without it?), freecodecamp (an integral part of Discord ICT-learning community), Digest News (who would follow news covered by state media in the absence of a TV?), Subtitled Shorts (arguably the most effortless and captivating form of news entertainment today), ChatGPT dialogue scenarios (presented mostly as a series of meaningful screenshots), Junior’s POV embracing their environment (could be either an easy-going interview or potentially have a memetic character).
All the formats depicted above are highly entertaining due to their storytelling part. Imagine it being completely blanked out, users would only obtain more bits of information, more sources of information, and, ultimately, access to multilevel reception and analysis of such information. The implication is simple: information overload and switch-off. Two biggest killers of Gen Z’s attention.
So what’s wrong with the Freemium model of feeding Gen Z?
The strategy of constantly feeding the audience with input (partly fresh, partly rotten) is incorporated in a wide range of apps that operate on the basis of freemium (a word blend of “free” and “premium”). This model of content distribution is keen to sell a bunch of unrefined news pieces for free and to arouse the feeling of incompleteness, which drives the user to unlock paid content. At this point, a flood of information starts prevailing over user engagement and, perhaps, reveals a new unhealthy form of addiction.
The app Informed, governed by an ambitious news start-up based in Berlin and London, showcases this agenda in its own brand name. The tech giant Apple pursues with its recent product Apple News+ the access to a great variety of quality sources for the sake of suiting every taste within its ecosystem. In opposition to the idealistic mission of the German startup, the notion of Apple’s overdue baby is merely economical: to cannibalize subscription businesses of their sponsors and make the ‘news universe’ opening with the title ‘Welcome to Apple News Plus’. This notion is both cynical and shrewd, daunting and magnificent. Yet, on a narrow scope, a user gets nothing other than a boring news aggregator that randomly spits out a ton of articles that might as well mismatch one’s beliefs, interests, or basic expectations.
Despite having all this know-how in a bundle, even the apps with a powerful base governed by Big Players or some highly influential startups fail to address a crucial issue preventing them to steal Gen Z’s hearts. This issue is called „sensual user engagement”: embedding well-structured storytelling in the shape of plastic, user-centered journalism. Access is the most elementary form of engagement, and it can hardly be sold as a value in the free world and highly-competitive industry.
These business models will live and prosper, nonetheless. But does Gen Z really deserve such limited treatment? The next question would be: should we keep consenting to it by clicking on a tempting subscription button?