How Millennials are Breaking the News

4 min read

I’m a millennial. I align with many of the stereotypes given to a generation of stir-crazy young adults who won’t pay for cable, experience soul-crushing bouts of FOMO (fear of missing out), and will crawl to the depths of hell to find a charger for an ailing iPhone. We’re annoying over-sharers who yearn for your social approval to confirm that yes, us kids are doing alright.

In addition to being mildly annoying and overzealous in our attempts to socialize, we are also disruptive in our media consumption habits. We opt to use smartphones, tablets, and laptops over traditional televisions, we stream media instead of buying traditional CDs and DVDs, and you can bet your sweet ass we aren’t paying for your newspaper. We want information immediately and we won’t wait until your 7 o’clock network news broadcast finally gets around to informing us about something that happened at 11AM. We’re instead relying on alternative avenues for real-time reporting that delivers information quickly and reliably.

Enter social media.

trendingnewsFacebook launched its “Trending” section on January 16, 2014. According to Facebook, “Trending shows you a list of topics and hashtags that have recently spiked in popularity on Facebook. This list is personalized based on a number of factors, including Pages you’ve liked, your location and what’s trending across Facebook.”

The news articles within Facebook have been so successful that the social network surpassed Google as the largest source of traffic to news sites including Wired, The Atlantic, Mashable, and Business Insider. Facebook accounts for a whopping 43% of traffic to the sites while Google was responsible for just 38%. According to, a traffic analytics service, Facebook accounted for only 20% of traffic as recently as January of 2014.

Shortly after, Facebook launched its “Instant Articles” mobile publishing platform. Here, select publishers (National Geographic, The New York Times, Buzzfeed, NBC News, etc.) can create interactive articles that instantly load and, hopefully, keep iPhone visitors engaged with unique media concepts like audio voiceover, animation, and automatic video play. Facebook also allows publishers to sell—and profit from—the ads within these articles.

The articles, by some measures, haven’t done so well. According to re/code, only 12.5% of those using the iPhone Facebook app have seen the articles in their news feed. Facebook has said they are working to ramp up the visibility of Instant Articles on iPhones while also unveiling them to Android users.

A reported 61% of millennials get their political news from Facebook. Only 37% reported that they got their news the previous week from TV. Baby boomers are almost exactly the opposite, with 39% getting news from Facebook and 60% relying on the TV to get their information.

But Facebook, although arguably the mightiest social network of them all, isn’t the one I believe will disrupt the news landscape. As younger millenials express growing frustration with the network and are more likely to rely on additional networks, I think that change will come from somewhere else. In my opinion, it will come from Snapchat, the fastest growing messaging app and the one with 71% of its users between the ages of 18 and 34. Facebook, for comparison, is comprised of only 38% of that same age demographic.

The mobile app rolled out its “Discover” platform in January for select brands to publish articles and videos for Snapsters (I just made that up and I intend to copyright it) to check out. Brands like ESPN, People, CNN, and Vice publish daily updates with relevant media about recent events, sports, entertainment, and whatever else is going on in the world. Users can easily check their personal snaps (photos or videos sent to them from their approved contacts), send one to friends, and check the news with just a few swipes of the hand.

Photo by Nieman Lab

Snapchat also uses its Live Stories function to allow its users to publish photos and videos to show what’s going on around them. These curated stories are then made public to Snapchat users. In the past, the app has published stories for sporting events (Wimbledon, NFL games), entertainment events (The Academy Awards), and to share news like the South Carolina flooding. It is estimated that these Live Stories can earn as many as 20 million views a day.

The most astounding numbers pulled in by Snapchat’s Live Stories came from the GOP Debate. Almost twice as many 18- to 24-year-olds tuned in to watch the debate via the Snapchat Live Story than through Fox News on traditional television. In total, Fox News had 24 million viewers that evening.

Snapchat screenshots by Fortune

If millennials continue down the rabbit hole of alternative news platforms, will Snapchat become the force to reckon with? And if so, can it entice other generations as well?