Youth and News Media

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Gone are the days of relying primarily on the radio, newspaper, or TV for news, especially for youth. But that’s no cause to dismiss Millennials, and specifically teenagers, as apathetic. They care about the news, but the ways in which they find it are changing. The online news media has certainly grown, but the causes and implications of this phenomenon are complex.

The most unique news source I read is TheSkimm, an email newsletter which sends me daily summaries of the news. Its co-founders, Danielle Weisberg and Carly Zakin, left their jobs as NBC associate producers in their mid-twenties to start it. They recognized that many of their friends were interested in current events, but were too busy to engage themselves in them. Thus, theSkimm (think: skimming the news) allows its readers to incorporate current events into their busy routines.

I get most of my news from my phone. Every morning, I check my email to read theSkimm. Five minutes later, I’m all caught up on the latest news. I listen to NPR on the way to school (admittedly, a habit I started only to avoid commercials on other stations), which provides me with stories in greater detail. I am also a fan of the Apple News app, in which news sources I like are delivered in one user-friendly place. When I go on Facebook, I occasionally click a headline that catches my eye. And sometimes I’ll watch the local news on TV at home. So, on an average day, no print sources. I make the most purposeful effort to seek out the news through online sources, which allow me to fit the news into my schedule.

Millennials are usually associated with the frequent use of social media. Not surprisingly, in one study, 56% of teenagers reported daily use of social media as a news source (Knight Foundation). Even though Facebook is usually the social media of choice for news, I don’t go on it a lot, and I don’t find the news on it very relevant to my interests. However, when someone I know engages with the news, it gives me better context around the topic. News on Facebook is an effect of the increase of online news media rather than a cause. Because the news content is there, users are more likely to click on it, but they do not tend to seek it out purposefully. Still, it’s a major source of news for Millennials and it contributes to the rapid spread of breaking news stories in ways much different than those of the past.

So, if teenagers rely on online sources so much, then what of more traditional sources? Perhaps youth don’t relate to the news presented in mass media outlets such as Fox, MSNBC, and CNN (where, by the way, the average ages of the viewers are 68.8, 62.5, and 62.8, respectively). These sources tend to tailor their programming to the demographics of their viewers. They are focused on increasing viewership, which often leads to sensationalism and mass marketing. Still, other sources such as PBS and NPR tend to be well trusted, even though they also try to appeal to large, and often older, audiences. The big difference is that they are non-profits and operate differently than other media. To suggest that teenagers purposefully avoid TV news is over-simplistic; rather, these sources aren’t as relevant to them as online sources.

The evolution of the news media may be crowding out old sources, such as newspapers, but new innovations are taking their place. TheSkimm can only exist in this online-based medium that teenagers have grown up in. Plus, online news sources like this give me the flexibility to customize my news to my interests. Therefore, when the news is presented as relevant as accessible to teenagers, they engage.

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Youth and News Media