Another new video brand that has found serious traction is The Young Turks (TYT), which calls itself “the largest online news show in the world” and now logs 30 million page views per month. Begun as a Sirius Satellite Radio show in 2002, TYT has since branched out beyond politics and economics to produce shows on everything from film to sports. The presentation is energetic and irreverent. As founder and host Cenk Uygur says, “You know what, old media? We’re comin’ for ya.”

They rarely visit your homepage

Early on, websites were designed like print publications, with homepages serving as a front page or table of contents, and individual articles, as in a magazine or newspaper, offering little besides the piece itself and a few links to related content (often chosen by a software algorithm). Today, a reader usually arrives at an article page through a link to a particular item, as if opening a newspaper to the fourth page of Section 3.

“At both Huffington Post and Reuters, the majority of traffic comes through at the article level or content-piece level,” says Thomson Reuters’s Alex Leo. “That’s a huge shift. The older you get in the spectrum, the more people go to a homepage or topic page. Young people are more source-agnostic.”

Erica Berger, 26, until recently product partnership director at Storyful, a wire service for social media, has the same view of the generational divide. “I hate homepages,” she says, adding that “millennials are thinking about content according to topic” rather than provider. “I want to read about the [presidential] inauguration from six or seven publications, and I want see what my friends are saying on Twitter and pictures people are taking on Instagram. I’m not just reading highly credentialed journalists; I’m also reading snarky commentary and regular people who were on the ground somewhere.”

Social-media users just click on whatever interests them. “If you’re talking about how normal [young] people are consuming news, it’s mostly links they see on social networks: Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr,” says Benjamin Jackson, 31, who worked on developing iPad and iPhone apps for The New York Times. “It is what we in computing nerdspeak call a ‘breadth-first search’ rather than ‘depth-first search.’ You cast a wide net and take out the best fish.”

They expect a conversation

Legacy media outlets can reach young audiences by pushing their content out through the mobile applications and social-media platforms. It’s the digital equivalent of what newspapers have always done: delivering the product daily right to your doorstep, giving that paper away for less than the cost of printing and distributing it, and also making sure they’re on every newsstand in town.

But the next step is something newspapers have traditionally not done: treating readers and viewers as partners in a conversation. That can mean fostering dialogue with readers in comment sections; through Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr accounts; or even giving some reader-generated content special visibility. The Wall Street Journal invites readers to participate in live video chats on its website, as does HuffPost Live, which airs 12 hours per day, five days a week, and then repeats. “The conventional media approach is, ‘We do our thing, and you consume it’—it’s one-way,” says Mark Coatney, who launched Newsweek’s highly regarded Tumblr account when he was a Web editor there in 2008. “Effective media organizations on Tumblr interact with the audience as equals.”

This new form of engagement can pose some challenges. On Newsweek’s Tumblr site, Coatney cultivated a punchy, irreverent tone and often discussed controversies swirling around Newsweek itself, such as the news that the magazine had been put up for sale. That kind of personal, informal voice might clash with the sensibilities of a straitlaced newspaper, wire service, or network news program. And most reporters are already scrambling to meet the escalating demands of the Internet and the 24/7 news cycle, so they have little time to interact with readers.

Indeed, media organizations are now willing to let the audience help cover the news (look at CNN’s iReport). Amateur uploads may be the best—or, indeed, the only—content available in a crisis such as the 2009 protests in Iran. Twitter and Instagram users have also proven themselves vigilant when it comes to identifying frauds and hoaxes. Berger says that at The Economist, where she previously worked, video from the 2012 campaign trail was contributed by civilians “in every state who were tweeting on the ground.”

Ben Adler covers climate-change policy for Grist and is a contributing editor for CJR