Quantity over quality within news consumption
By Alexis Green
Reading the news is University of Texas senior Katharine Taylor’s way of remaining connected to life outside of college.
“University can be a bubble quite isolated from the rest of the world,” she said. “Sources like the New York Times provide a window into the world outside the 40 acres.”
Taylor is among several students who rely on news to comprehend global events and information. About 51 percent of students read the news daily or several times a day, according to a survey conducted by UT journalism students.
As complex issues and policies arose, especially after the 2016 election, people turned to media for explanation.
“The election has been kind of an awakening. Because there’s so much misinformation perpetuated by a person in power, people feel need to verify what they’re hearing,” Macarena Hernandez, a Baylor University Journalism Professor said.
“[My news consumption] has definitely changed since the election because Trump has had a huge controversy…it’s drawn me more towards the news,” UT freshman Madeline Kinsella said.
Similar to Taylor, Kinsella views the news as a guide for comprehending what is happening. However, exposure to fake news paired with lack of news literacy have scholars and journalists concerned with the information students are relying on.
“We are living in time when fake news and lies try to pass for the truth,” Macarena asserted.
Media experts are noticing that the line between unreliable and reliable information is being blurred.
“Because of the growth of social media, I believe millennials are actually exposed to more news daily than those a few years older were at their age,” said Beth Gallaspy, an Instructor of Communication at Lamar University. “However, the proliferation of clickbait sites, fake news sites and biased media means that these millennials may have trouble distinguishing actual news from the garbage that surrounds it.”
Sixty-four percent of people between the ages of 18 and 24 get their news from online websites and social media, according to research conducted by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism.
“You all [millennials] can’t imagine a time when there wasn’t Facebook,” said Dr. Paula Pointdexter, a UT Journalism professor and book author. “A lot of stuff out there that is completely made up, fabricated fake news and a lot of people don’t know its fake.”
This problem may continue to evolve, for while people have a desire to know about the world there is an unwillingness to pay for news subscriptions. The 2017 Texas Media & Society Survey, TMASS, showed that 50 percent of Texans have not paid for access to news.
“Particularly among your generation [millennials] I think that almost everybody had either Netflix, Hulu, or a music digital subscription, but very few people had a digital subscription to the news,” Dr. Pointdexter said.
The idea of consuming news from larger organizations is furtherly hindered by discrediting from President Donald Trump and an overall distrust for the media.
“When president of the United States calls the press enemy of the American people, then I know that we have a problem,” Dr. Pointdexter stated. “Credibility is at an all-time low.”
She explains that the lack of trust for news organizations in conjunction with free access to social media and clickbait sites, enables a lack of incentive for consumers to pay for verified news, which is an issue.
“Without the press, without the watchdog press to know what is happening, we would be in huge trouble,” Dr. Pointdexter said.
According to the TMASS, 21 percent of Texans strongly or somewhat agreed they don’t know enough to cast an informed vote. Among other U.S. participants, 13 percent reported the same thing.
“The spread of fake news stories effected the outcome of our political election. It made a legitimate candidacy out of someone who may not have won 4 years ago,” Hernandez said.
Experts are concerned because of the prevalence of fake news in reader’s daily lives and the impact that news illiteracy can have on society as a whole.
“Increasing news engagement and media literacy is important because an informed citizenry is a vital part of a healthy democracy. People with poor information about what is happening in their city, state, nation, and world are likely to make poor decisions in the voting booth, or to disengage in that arena as well,” Gallaspy highlighted.
While students like Kinsella and Taylor demonstrate the relevancy of news among young people, there is still the threat of being misinformed due to lack of news literacy.
“Part of conversation we should be having at middle schools and colleges is that people need to be smart media consumers,” Professor Hernandez proposed.