It’s a well-known fact that young people today are not gathered around the kitchen table reading the newspaper, and the online readership of news agencies like The Wall Street Journal or The New York Times are not being supported by 20-somethings attending college or going about their hectic lives and schedules.
However, that does not mean young people don’t keep up with the world around them. While past studies from institutions such as Pew have concluded that millennials and Generation Z are not likely to keep up with the news, new insights have come up with a different answer — young people aren’t less informed, they’re just informed by different sources.
One of the chief ways people are staying up to date in this new age of technology is through “explainer” videos. These videos are short, jam-packed news bits that aim to teach the viewer about a topic through flashy visuals and comprehensive storytelling. Companies such as Vox have championed this format in recent years, and the rest of the industry is following suit.
What makes these videos so intriguing to young people? What makes them more digestible than the newspaper headlines we’re used to? Is this the future of the news?
News With a Story to Tell
Even if you haven’t seen an explainer video, you’ve seen an explainer video.
The format is simple: short videos with punchy visuals that hold your attention enough to inform you about different topics, stories and general information about a given subject. You’re not going to have a Ph.D. in the matter after watching one, but you’re going to be informed enough to make decisions about it in everyday life.
In recent years, a wide variety of organizations, from nonprofits to corporations, have started using these videos to explain their products or services in a simplified format. You probably don’t want to read about the quality of Dollar Shave Club’s razors, but a two-minute explainer video infused with a bit of comedy might change your mind. You won’t go digging for Ethical Coffee Chain’s roasting process, but a three-minute explainer will have you entertained enough through colorful visuals to lend them an ear.
What makes “good” explainer videos unique is the element of storytelling that’s infused within them. Flashy graphics may keep your attention initially, but there has to be a reason to keep watching.
The aforementioned Ethical Coffee Chain video is a great example of this method, taking the viewer on a journey from the original harvesting of coffee beans to the role they play in supporting the company’s charities. It makes the viewer think, “Huh, I wonder what’s going to happen next!”
In essence, explainer videos have the same goal as a news story or a magazine article; they’re meant to explain a complicated topic to the audience through storytelling and the simplification of complicated situations. In today’s visually driven society, though, explainer videos have begun to use skilled editing to lure (specifically young) audiences away from print media.
Vox and Friends
As readership in traditional publications has decreased in the last decade, a new subsect of news agencies has risen from the ashes. Among the new titans of the newfound explainer news industry, Vox has emerged as the leader in informing the young masses on everything from North Korea to the Suez Canal incident.
What started out as a budding YouTube channel created by journalists Ezra Klein, Matt Yglesias and Melissa Bella in 2014 has now become a household name in journalism. The channel has nearly 9.5 million subscribers, and it now hosts shows on both Netflix and YouTube Premium. To put it simply, Vox has become a mainstay in the news diet of the average millennial or zoomer.
Vox’s biggest strength is its mastery of visual communication within its explainer videos. Vox doesn’t just tell you statistics about American healthcare; it shows you through dynamic charts and graphs. You aren’t just told about countries being affected by an economic crisis; you are shown on a shifting map to help you picture where the situation is geographically unfolding. These are simple features, but Vox was one of the first to realize their potential in the explainer format.
The success of these explainer news channels is almost completely reliant on younger generations — and it seems to be working. New studies have revealed that millennials and Generation Z get a vast majority of their news from social media such as YouTube or Facebook. Vox and other explainer channels have tapped into this trend and have reaped the benefits.
Who Reads Anymore?
While it can’t be denied that explainer videos are on their way to becoming the dominant form of news for younger generations, there still needs to be an explanation as to why.
The short answer is that younger people are more drawn to visual stimuli than their older counterparts. In a Digital News Report study, those under the age of 35 are spending more time with visual-based platforms like YouTube and Instagram every year, shifting away from more text-based platforms like Facebook or Twitter.
It’s worth noting that in the same study, no news outlet app was among the 25 most used apps on a single respondent’s phone. It’s simply easier for the modern smartphone user to hop on one of a plethora of social media apps and find short, visually stimulating news content — something preferable to scrolling through unengaging headlines and paragraphs full of text.
Social media has taken over the journalism world, and explainer videos are simply the best fit for these newfound platforms. Their short and attention-grabbing nature are perfectly suited for Twitter or Instagram feeds. People no longer need to read a 10-minute article when they can watch a visually engaging clip that gives them the same information, but simplified.
While print journalism isn’t going anywhere any time soon, explainer videos may be the answer to the declining readership that is plaguing the industry.