Young people use a variety of strategies for verifying news and put little trust in traditional legacy journalism outlets, according to a new study by Data & Society and the Knight Foundation. The study is titled How Youth Navigate the News Landscape, and is based on analysis of interviews conducted with 6 focus groups with 52 teens and young adults from 3 U.S. cities. The authors write, “In an age of smartphones and social media, young people don’t follow the news as much as it follows them.”  This leads them to think of the news industries as somewhat inevitable parts of their everyday lives that, due to the pervasiveness of the advertising that supports news, will permeate all aspects of their lives.

The study found that many of those interviewed were aware of the need to carefully assess the news that did come their way, and were concerned about bias in the news they read.

As we found in our study of youth and news, all of this meant that young people are defining news in a way that includes but also extends beyond the journalistic outlets that have long been the venue for information about current events.

Mary Madden, Amanda Lenhart and Claire Fountaine authored the study.

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UN/Rick Bajornas from the UN News Centre

First, the bad news:

1. Between 2009 and 2010, the number of U.S. young people who watched television news dropped 12%. (Pew Research Ctr for People & the Press 2010)

2. Most people under 40 consider news to be impractical, inconvenient, environmentally unfriendly and boring. (Shorenstein Ctr on the Press, Politics & Public Policy 2007)

3. Some 85% of U.S. young people aged 18-24 said that they posted little or no political information on a social network site in advance of the 2012 elections, and only one third of those surveyed recalled seeing any news at all on a social network site within the previous day (Pew Internet Project 2012)

4. Half of people surveyed say that they consider themselves “news grazers” who check news occasionally but not according to any particular pattern (Pew Ctr for People & the Press 2010)

5. It could be that young people are reluctant to share politically oriented news on social network sites (Thorson 2014)

And then, the good news:

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1. More than ever before, schools, community, and even public international organizations like the United Nations are seeing the value in establishing and maintaining youth programs that work to ensure media competence (including the ability to both critique and to create media).

2. Popular culture such as music, satire television, fictional films, documentaries, games, and viral videos continue to provide openings for young people to consider, become interested in, and engage with the political issues that touch their lives (Barnhurst 1998; Bennett 2007; Jenkins 2006; Jones 2010; van Zoonen 2005).

3. Youth are involved in numerous political protests around the world and at least some young people in Hong Kong, Spain, Greece, and the United States are demonstrating as part of a desire for more participation in democratic governance.

4. Community organizations are in some places filling the gaps left as for-profit journalism struggles more than ever before to reach the growing majority-minority communities with information they need for participation in self-governance.

In some ways, today’s information-rich and often opinion-driven media landscape looks a lot more like that of the late 19th century than that of the late 20th.

Penny Magazine

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In other ways, today’s media industries are more centralized and concentrated than ever before.

There is little doubt that our ideas of community, information, and value are all undergoing change. What kinds of digital media competence are needed to navigate this environment? How can young people learn to be critics and participants in the forms of storytelling that are emerging?  How can young people whose communities have often felt underserved by profit-driven news media find ways to connect with one another, using social media resources to become members of publics and counter-publics that can effect the positive changes they wish to see in the world?