Young people don’t follow the news as much as it follows them
A new study by the Knight Foundation has found that younger people have a definition of news that goes beyond traditional news outlets; they tend to find news by accident and online; and they don’t tend to trust the news media very much.
The report was based on focus groups with 52 people in their teens and 20s in the U.S., so it can hardly be called comprehensive. But its findings are not out of line with other research about younger people and news. (Like this Pew report about the state of the news in 2016.)
As an older person, I have witnessed this change in news-gathering habits. The only thing I’d add is that while studies like these focus on youth, in fact many of us who are older have also changed the way we look for and interact with news—and we are growing wary of it, too.
This also includes the way we get it (44% of American adults now get their news via Facebook).
In other words, it’s not just young people who are experiencing these changes; it’s happening across all demographics—and its shaking up the news industry.
As for the study, it found that:
The way young people encounter and understand news in their daily lives is rapidly evolving. They don’t consume news in the same way as older generations—wait for the supper hour news or the morning paper. Instead, it is all-on all the time on social media and mobile devices.
Said one participant: “If I don’t see it on social media, I’m not going to hear it.”
Or, as the researchers put it, “young people don’t follow the news as much as it follows them.”
(And as a college student famously said back in 2008 about why she didn’t follow the news: “If the news is important, it will find me.”)
News is frequently encountered by accident. Those of us who are older are accustomed to looking for news, usually in traditional places like newspapers or broadcasts.
That is not the case for younger people. For them, news comes and goes through their social media feeds. They aren’t looking for it; it pops up when a friend posts a news item and says “check this out.”
As one participant put it: “[I was] not purposefully looking for it. Like Facebook, you get a notification for Facebook or something and you click on it and you start scrolling.”
Said another: “You’re going to find a bunch of news articles that you didn’t necessarily go there to see, but you’re going to see them and you’re going to click on them…I wouldn’t know a lot of the news if I didn’t go on Facebook.”
Teens and young adults in the study expressed widespread skepticism about the news and assume that much of the information they encounter may be inaccurate or biased. For them, a news source is considered more credible when its biases are known.
The definition of news is changing. For older people, news is pretty easy to tell—it’s in a newspaper or newscast and shared by reporters and vetted by editors. But what is news in a world where those things don’t exist in the same way?
Says the study: “In much the same way that the news industry has been disrupted in the digital era, teens’ and young adults’ understanding of what “the news” is and should be has largely been unhinged from the traditional understanding of journalism and institutional authority.”
News for younger people, the study says, “is amorphous and often extends well beyond the content produced by traditional journalistic institutions.”
News isn’t any fun. Well, the study put it a different way: “News is ‘depressing,’ but it is something you need to know.” In that, younger and older people may be alike—I don’t find much of what passes for news today to be very uplifting. (See post on positivity).
Sharing news can be dangerous. Maybe this is more an American thing right now, but in that polarized atmosphere people see sharing news and opinions on social media as “having the potential to negatively affect one’s online reputation.”
Or, to put it another way, if you share a news item about President Trump, someone might take it the wrong way, or judge you to be a conservative or a liberal or a racist or . . . whatever. It’s much easier to just not share anything online.
News from friends is more trustworthy. The study found that many participants consider user-generated content—especially live video—to be more trustworthy than mainstream media sources.
This is consistent with other research that shows people are more trusting of information shared by friends than far-away sources like newsrooms, and with a decision by Facebook to tweak its algorithm to favour information from friends.
Again, the study can be found here.