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"Dumbing it down is the dumbest thing you can do" - The Daily Beast's John Avlon on quality content

The Daily Beast is an online publication focussed on politics and popular culture. With 20m+ unique users a month, its audience skews largely towards younger demographics.

Given the media industry’s current obsession with reaching ‘Generation X’ and so called ‘Millennials’, I was curious to know if there was a unique skill set required to engage younger audiences. In this earnest interview for FIPP, John Avlon, editor-in-chief of The Daily Beast, quickly explains why that idea is nonsense:

Dumbing it down is the dumbest thing you can do if you’re trying to connect with Millennials (0:20) 

"There’s a – perhaps inevitable – condescension that occurs, probably in every generation, where older folks look at a rising generation and say "Ah, kids today – they don’t care about the important things! They just want to waste their time on x, y or z." The reality is that a high-low mix does help connect, you’re going to need politics AND pop-culture. But at The Daily Beast in the last six months, we’ve seen world news compete with entertainment for our top vertical."

That’s a really important story, but nobody cares (1:06)

"One of the things that frustrates the hell out of me in the news business is when people sort of roll their eyes and say, "Gosh, y’know that’s a really important story but nobody cares." Well, that means we’re not doing our job as Journalists. It’s our job to make the important stuff interesting."

There are a lot of news sites trying to create mini TV studios inside their own newsroom. This is not going to work. (1:49) 

"There are a lot of news sites investing a lot of money in digital and in video in particular, trying to create mini TV studios inside their own newsroom. I know because we did that when we owned Newsweek and we were one company. I think there’s an easy mistake to make that anticipates convergence but that’s too far ahead of the curve, where you fall into the trap of trying to recreate a Talk Show format on people’s computers. That is NOT going to work."

Social media is the mechanism by which most people are getting their news right now (2:41)

"Social media is non-optional and everybody should have gotten that memo like two years ago. We have grown more than 200 per cent over the last year in social media. Only around one quarter of our readers will come to the homepage. The majority will come through mobile – first of all – the rise of mobile and millennials are tied together, and social media is the vehicle, the mechanism by which most people are getting their news right now."

The message from The Daily Beast is clear. Patronise younger audiences at your peril. With a UK election on the way and #Milifandom in full swing, publishers would do well to analyse the articulate social world growing up around them, rather than simply trying to dumb down the tonality of their publications to feign empathy with younger audiences.

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