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Young people trust friends on social media over news organizations, according to new book

Young People and the Future of News finds that in a time of declining news industries, young people are informing one another through social media—for better or worse

DENVER, September 30, 2017 — With social media, young people are finding out about news events from friends. When they are outraged or drawn into what is happening in current events, they are not only reading and viewing, but also sharing, immersing themselves in, and sometimes even creating news. And, it is changing the way young people define news. That’s according to the authors of Young People and the Future of News Lynn Schofield Clark and Regina Marchi, two journalism professors who studied diverse U.S. young people and their news habits for 10 years.

“Rather than relying on news organizations to tell them what is newsworthy, they’re deciding for themselves—and usually that decision is influenced not by where the news came from, but who told them about it,” says Clark, professor and chair in the media, film and journalism studies department at the University of Denver.

Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube have skyrocketed as locations for news among young people during the past decade, according to numerous national and international studies. Meanwhile, local newspapers and television news have been laying off staff—and struggling to survive.

The shift from trusted journalistic sources to social media as young people’s main source of news isn’t good news for the organizations of traditional journalism, the book acknowledges.  But members of immigrant communities and communities of color have long felt unheard by and underrepresented within those organizations, according to those interviewed in the book. The book also traces ways that young people in these communities are sharing the news that matters to them outside of formal news channels and away from public scrutiny.

“We used to think of newspapers as playing a central role in informing people of the news needed to participate in a democracy,” Clark says. “But what we found is that now young people are socializing one another into politics. This happens as they draw on the connective capacities of social media as well as on practices we once associated with journalism, like holding people in power accountable.”

“This means that we will need to rethink journalism industries as well as the ways that we educate people both for journalism and for democratic engagement more generally,” says Marchi, professor in the Department of Journalism and Media Studies at the Rutgers University. “Across the country, funding for high school journalism clubs and civics classes has been slashed, but students need opportunities to explore the relationship between journalism and democracy now more than ever,” she says.

Clark and Marchi interviewed more than 200 young people and several dozen parents, educators, and other adults working with youth in four U.S. urban areas and compared their findings with national studies on related topics from several research centers. They also considered the platforms that are delivering the news to most young people.

“News is different today,” Marchi said. “And our news distributors—namely Facebook, YouTube and Instagram—need to be held accountable for shaping what’s available and for helping young people and all of us to evaluate it.” The book offers a number of suggestions on this.

The authors praise recent efforts to alert communities to untruths circulating in social media, such as Facebook’s “disputed” tag that indicates that snopes.net and Politifact have vetted certain information and found it questionable. But they also note that the public needs greater transparency from the social media platforms to counteract the tendency for such platforms to make decisions that benefit them commercially but that may be harmful to public interests. Young people need greater awareness both of the ways that the algorithms of social media platforms work, and of how to be actively involved in shaping the emerging media and political environment, they argue.

“Young people don’t consume news the way adults did (or do), but this doesn’t mean that they’re uninterested in what’s going on,” Clark says. “In fact, research is suggesting that overall, this is a very engaged generation.” The book’s findings confound prior theories that presumed that casual online sharing by youth might be dismissed as mere ‘slactivism.’   “In contrast,” says Marchi, “we suggest that such casual sharings and even observation-only participation can serve an important role as a form of early civic engagement.”

Young People and the Future of News: Social Media and the Rise of Connective Journalism is set for publication on September 15 by Cambridge University Press. For more information, visit https://www.cambridge.org/core/books/young-people-and-the-future-of-news/E73A053188B9C194ADF02FEEA8F94574

About the Authors

Bio of Lynn Schofield Clark

Clark is Professor and Chair of the Department of Media, Film and Journalism Studies and Director of the Estlow Center for Journalism and New Media at the University of Denver, In addition to Young People and the Future of News, she is author of The Parent App: Understanding Families in a Digital Age (Oxford UP, 2013), and coauthor of Media, Home and Family (Routledge 2004). Her first book, From Angels to Aliens: Teenagers, the Media, and the Supernatural (Oxford UP, 2005), was named Best Scholarly Book by the Ethnography division of the National Communication Association. She teaches courses on diversity in news and media studies.

Bio of Regina Marchi

Marchi is Associate Professor in the Department of Journalism and Media Studies at the Rutgers University. Her first book, Day of the Dead in the USA: The Migration and Transformation of a Cultural Phenomenon, won the 2010 James W. Carey Award for Media Research and an International Latino Book Award in the category of “Best history/political book.”

 

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