With the emergence of a digitally oriented generation — the Generation Z — news organizations are struggling to remain relevant.

Gen Z, the latest generation that stumbled into adulthood, is shaping the media industry of today, CGTN reported.

This generation, the oldest of which are 24 years old, has grown up in an era where social media dominate the cyberspace and everything is going digital. In China, they found their spiritual mecca in social media sites, the most prominent of which are Weibo and WeChat.

Founded in 2009, China’s most popular microblogging site Weibo now boasts more than 497 million active users a month. Almost all established media outlets have found their presence on Weibo, while key opinion leaders have amassed a large following on the site as well. WeChat, on the other hand, is now home to more than 5 million official accounts, with daily uploading of more than 5 million pieces.

“We see that Generation Z has a preference over ways of expression that comes from an equal standpoint,” said Yu Qi, general manager of the media relationship department at Weibo, in an interview with CGTN on the sideline of the third CGTN Global Media Summit and CCTV+ Video Media Forum.

A jargon-free style that maximizes engagement on social media platforms is preferred over the traditional way of news reporting, she explained, adding that more and more established media outlets were appealing to younger audience by adopting an approachable way of narrative in news reporting.

Compared with the previous generation, Gen Z prefers more customized news, according to a speech given by Chen Juhong, vice president of Tencent, during the media summit.

Since they grew up in an age of information overload, they have the natural ability to search for information of their own interest and follow people who are experts in those fields. That drive for specialized knowledge is one of the key features that differentiate the younger generation from their predecessors, the report said.

Unsurprisingly, tapping into that feature, Weibo adopted the strategy to deliver more specialized content since 2013, fostering key opinion leaders in the specialized field and promoting greater veriticalization in news production and dissemination. Increasingly, it is observed that Gen Z are turning to influencers on social media as trusted news sources instead of established media outlets, thereby possibly drifting away from important news items.

But this does not mean that young people care less about social responsibility, Yu said. According to a research conducted by Weibo, among the top 100 most viewed short videos, more than 50% are on issues of public interest. Whenever major events take place, live coverage from established media are still among the most searched on Weibo, showing that once established media build a connection with online users, they can still drive engagement on social media platforms.

As we enter the “post-truth” age, Chinese media is trying to combat its own “fake news” problem.  According to a report on misinformation on WeChat, published by the Sun Yet-sen University in collaboration with WeChat’s security team, 2,175 fake news stories appeared in 2016 alone. A Weibo fact-checking report shows that in 2018, 74,849 Weibo posts were reported as falsified.

Near the end of 2018, Weibo launched the fact-checking function where verified accounts of government departments and credible media outlets will be able to mark posts disseminating fake news. The notice will appear below the original post to remind readers to stay alert of the misleading information.

“We cannot decide for our users what to believe and what not to believe,” said Yu, “but we, as platform operators, can create an environment to empower fact-checkers and let real information travel faster.”

Contrary to the belief that millennials are indifferent to news, they are in fact active participants in news consumption through providing feedback on social media. For example, whenever posts of disinformation appear, they will post a message to their favorite key opinion leader, asking for clarification or fact-checking, the report said.

Gen Z is shaping news industry in an irreversible way. If managed well, they hold the promise for becoming one of the most engaged citizenries in China. And established media outlets are on their way to win over Gen Z on social media platforms.