“More understanding, less criticism” – What young people expect from the media (part II)

It is often the case that events dedicated to the youth are dominated by adults’ mentoring the next generation. To avoid this trap, AEJ-Bulgaria dedicated a special workshop and panel at the Sofia Talks Media: Youth conference to young journalists and authors on the sCOOL Media platform for student journalism. Their task was to reflect on what exactly young people are missing in today’s legacy journalism, how to attract them back to it and why it is important for professional media to pay special attention to adolescents. 

In the panel Next Generation: Journalism by and for Teenagers featured young journalist Katerina Vassileva, whose career started at sCOOL Media four years ago and will soon continue in the ranks of the Bulgarian branch of Radio Free Europe, Polina Petkova, author of the podcast “Inside Out” and part of the online youth radio Teen Station, as well as two of the participants in the youth workshop organized in parallel with the conference – Yordanka Yoncheva and Rosen Razpopov. 

What are the conclusions from the workshop? When it comes to where teenagers get their information from, the conclusions will hardly surprise anyone: first of all, it’s social networks, with short video platform TikTok and Instagram being the leading channels, and YouTube ranking far behind the two. Then comes the well-tested word-of-mouth method of learning news, followed by podcasts, while news websites rank only last. NB: television stations aren’t even mentioned! 

What then is turning young people away from the classical media? Rosen Razpopov says that they are often presented negatively and as bystanders by them, as statistics rather than as individuals. He gives the example of the eternal topic of matriculation exams in Bulgaria, where every year the media’s focus falls on (bad) grades rather than the deeper reasons for them. “We feel like we’re being criticized by our elders, they’re not trying to look into our problems,” Rosen concludes.

Yordanka Yoncheva outlined the problem with the format of media content, which is not adapted to the “digital natives”. According to her, classical media should use social networks more, because young people are mainly informed from them. 

However, publishing content on these channels is not enough on its own – it needs to be curated and presented by individuals who speak the language of young people, such as influencers, tiktokers and youtubers. 

In terms of the topics that interest young people, they need to be more diverse and, besides news, include education, comedy, beauty and more. Speaking of news – the youth would like political topics to be better explained. “We need to talk about politics not as if everyone knows what’s going on in the country, but as if it’s being explained from scratch,” sums up Yordanka. She also puts emphasis on the need for honest and open debates without censorship, as well as living stories. “We need to approach the young with more understanding and less criticism,” she concludes. 

Katerina Vassileva also emphasises the need to combine serious topics with a more entertaining and engaging way of presenting them, as well as the creation of special sections dedicated to young people. But more important than anything, she says, is giving young people a voice on any topic: “Young people need to be interviewed more often, even if it’s not strictly a youth topic.”

Photo credit: Ralitsa Belcheva

Lastly, the youth panel emphasized on the way adult journalists treat the young. “Adults should look at young people as complete individuals who have something to share,” advised Rosen Razpopov. Polina Petkova recounted how she often found it difficult to find specialists on the topic of her podcast – mental health – “who could talk to me as an equal and could explain complex psychological topics in an understandable way.” “Don’t let the age difference be a barrier – don’t shut yourself off to the viewpoints of young people,” she advised her older colleagues in closing. 

Last, but not least, was the panel discussion on How to Attract Young Audiences. It featured Kenyan journalist and trainer Joseph Warungu, Belgian journalist Camille Deckers, Sune Gudmundsson, co-founder of Danish training media Koncentrat, and Google News Lab’s Head of Central and Eastern Europe Daniel Rzasa. 

Warungu talked about Top Story, a national mentoring programme for young journalists in Kenya that he founded, which is attracting the interest of viewers and up-and-coming young journalists alike with its unconventional reality TV show format. 

Photo credit: Ralitsa Belcheva
Photo credit: Ralitsa Belcheva

Deckers spoke about her experience in using online journalism formats to reach teenagers aged 13-18, who are often overlooked by the media, and about the pan-European youth media platform Are We Europe, which she runs. 

In turn, Gudmundsson talked about the five steps his media follows when creating content for young people. First, they aim to get young people to associate the news topic with something familiar. He gave the example of a poster that shows many everyday activities through the lens of Green Transition. The youth are then presented with the new information in the form of a news article. It usually continues with an activity – in the case of the Green Transition topic, for example, it is a calculator for the carbon footprint of the reader. And it ends with new knowledge and practical ‘wisdom’ that young people can apply in their everyday lives.


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