Time for Kenyan media to rope in the younger folk

TV cameramen

TV cameramen at a press conference in Nairobi. 

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

The Digital News Report – published annually for the past 10 years by the Reuters Institute at the University of Oxford – makes for an insightful read on global digital media trends.

The global study, conducted through an online survey across 46 markets in six continents, sampled more than 93,000 respondents, making it the largest ongoing research on digital news consumption globally. Recently, the study extended its focus to Africa, namely Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa and has teased out some interesting findings on digital media consumption in the region.

Generally, this year’s study reveals a decline in interest in news and overall news consumption. Trust in news has declined in nearly all countries and a remarkable number of respondents are avoiding news due to the focus on negative news, including politics and Covid-19.

In the case of Kenya, data was collected from a sample of mainly English-speaking online news consumers aged between 18 and 50. The respondents had higher levels of formal education and were likely to live in the cities.

Consumption of traditional news media products such as TV and print newspapers has declined in Kenya, with most audiences (92 per cent) accessing news from online sources, including social media.

The smartphone remains the device of choice for Kenyan audiences at 82 per cent. Overall trust in news in Kenya was at 57 per cent, meaning that at least six out of 10 Kenyans trust the media. This trust level remains high compared to other countries surveyed.

The most important takeaways from this study were the insights on younger audiences. First, due to the depressing nature of news, younger audiences are avoiding news because it triggers negative feelings and a sense of helplessness.

Facebook and WhatsApp

Secondly, younger audiences prefer social media to access news as compared to directly accessing it through the publishers’ websites and apps. While Facebook and WhatsApp remain the top social media platforms for accessing news for the younger audiences, their numbers are declining in favour of Tiktok and Instagram.

With regard to the preferred format, Kenyan audiences still prefer to read news (56 per cent) while video formats are growing at 25 per cent, which is higher than Nigeria at 10 per cent and South Africa at 14 per cent. It is predicted that video will continue to grow as the cost of data continues to be more affordable.

It was also interesting to note the interest in the different news genres. Contrary to popular belief that younger audiences are interested in only entertainment and celebrity gossip, this year’s DNR reveals that Kenyan audiences are interested in business news (55 per cent), International news (54 per cent) and politics (52 per cent).

As the Kenyan media pivots towards reader-revenue strategies such as paywalls, it will be important to consider these findings as they develop strategies on content, sustainability and audience engagement. For a media that has chronically underserved the younger audiences for decades, this is an opportunity to rethink their strategy in favour of the elusive young folk.

The writer is the director, Innovation Centre, at Aga Khan University; [email protected]