Gen Zers eight-second attention span proves problematic for journalists

Our students view their world in likes, favorites and retweets. They make decisions based on how they look to others on social media. They also get their news (either from peers or celebrities) on social media. They connect with new friends. This is their world.

Cellphones have changed how this teen generation spends their time. Our students have the world at their fingertips, yet are they connected with what’s happening in their world? The fight to hold their attention is real and journalists have struggled to consistently deliver.

Oh, and if professional journalists have failed to deliver, how much more difficult is the task for student journalists?

According to The Atlantic, “the average teen spends two and a half hours a day on electronic devices.”  Generation Z, those born after 2000, spend a bulk of that time on social media.

I see and hear the need to be heard on social media every day in our school building. Just yesterday, I was backstage while two young ladies waited for a trophy presentation at their gymnastics competition. The two were taking videos of themselves doing various moves. One said, “you need to make sure you use this kind of video, those always get more likes.”   

Ironically, I struggle to hear this same thought process in my journalism classroom. My students choose stories to cover, but they don’t really believe their peers will take the time to read. They know how to get people to read what they have to say on social media, so why aren’t they applying this same logic to the news?

Generation Zers, according to Forbes, are difficult to reach because they have an eight-second attention span and juggle an average of five screens on their phone at one time. Multimedia is the answer to delivering news to this audience.

I look forward to infusing multimedia training into what’s left of our semester. My journalists work hard to be heard by their peers, and to an extent, I feel I’ve failed them in helping get their messages out.  

This multimedia course will equip me to teach my students, to give them options for choosing a medium that best fits their story. Better photography, audio, video and the use of different apps will all play a part in coverage moving forward.  

This week, I was blown away at some of the student news sites I encountered. Specifically, The Feather Online, student news site for Fresno Christian Schools. The level of student work is admirable, and I’m anxious to show my students examples of what they could do with their own work. 

I guess what I’m looking for out of this semester is inspiration and motivation. I seek inspiration from learning to do things I never knew I could do, but also motivation because I’ll expertly know how to train my staff to incorporate this knowledge.


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