“Today, rather than relying on news organizations to tell them what is newsworthy, young people are deciding for themselves what is newsworthy—and that decision is usually influenced not by where the news came from, but who told them about it,” Associate Professor of Journalism and Media Studies Regina Marchi said in reference to the findings reported in her new book, "Young People and the Future of News: Social Media and the Rise of Connective Journalism."
Marchi’s new book, co-authored with Lynn Schofield Clark, is published by Cambridge University Press and was released on Sept. 15, 2017. It explores the ways young people–ages 21 and under– learn about, and make sense of, the news and the world around them through the posts they read on the social media platforms they follow.
Ultimately, their research led them to coin the term “connective journalism” to identify and define this trend.
“We chose the term ‘connective journalism’ to refer to the connective properties of social media and the ways that young people are using social media to do things traditionally associated with journalism such as informing, watchdogging, witnessing, investigating and collating information needed to make decisions in the political realm.” Marchi said.
Marchi and Clark conducted research for 10 years. “We began this research in 2007, inspired by the vast changes we saw in how young people and older generations were becoming informed about the world,” Marchi said. “At the time, we were interested in concepts of the public good and received a grant from the Lilly Endowment to study young people's ideas about public good and what motivated some to become involved in public life.
“In the 1990s and early 2000s, there were a number of prominent studies noting that youth were no longer reading newspapers or watching TV news, and the conclusion of many scholars at the time was that today's youth are uninterested in news and apathetic politically.
“However, we saw and continue to see young people who care deeply about politics, in examples such as the Occupy movements, The Dreamers, Black Lives Matter, LGBT activism, the Standing Rock pipeline protesters and university students across the U.S. organizing around issues such as student debt, campus sexual assault, or poor on-campus racial climates.
“So we wanted to take a closer look at how young people are differently informed than previous generations, and to learn more about the relationship between expressing one's personal identity online and how people come to see themselves, through social media, as part of a collective community of political struggle.”
Marchi and Clark make a number of recommendations in the book for how social media platforms can apply what they have discovered, and how the educational system can begin to teach young people the critical skills necessary to dissect and question the reliability of the news on various social media platforms.
“We advocate for the urgency of critical news literacy training for young people in high schools, after school youth programs and universities,” Marchi said. “By this we mean training that teaches students about the need for principled journalism in order to have a healthy democracy and the importance of understanding journalistic concepts such as bias, transparency, accuracy, and conflict of interest. This includes discussing fake news with young people. There are concrete ways to recognize fake news from real news, which we discuss in detail.
“Youth also need to learn to recognize sponsored content and gain a better understanding of the economic models of digital media. At the same time, we note an urgent need for greater transparency in the decision-making processes of designers and developers who develop create algorithms that evaluate the number of clicks, likes, shares, and comments associated with certain content. We need to be aware that some voices are more likely to be favored algorithmically than others in social media spaces, rendering the lived experiences of some groups less visible in the news, and therefore less likely to engender empathy, particularly among those people already predisposed to ignore such groups.
“This is why many interested in the future of democracy feel compelled to both study efforts to educate young people on the ways that digital media shape and potentially limit our experiences and to advocate for greater transparency from the media organizations that increasingly structure those experiences.”
Their research also resulted in their refutation of the term “slactivism,” which has been used to describe the apathy some critics assume applies to young people, because it can appear that many young people do not pay attention to the news because they don’t read newspapers or watch the news on TV. To the contrary, Marchi and Clark discovered that young people are not necessarily news “slackers,” when they passively lurk and follow issues on social media.
Marchi said, “In observing young people's social media practices, we realized that for those youth who get involved in political activities, there is a ladder of engagement. This often starts with something seemingly small, such as ‘liking’ a certain social media post, and then following that person or issue online. In the process, youth start to see themselves as part of a collective community with shared experiences or grievances.
“They may then attend a protest event and become more active in promoting the issue, sharing about it online, and eventually engaging in activist work. 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 associated with journalism, like holding people in power accountable. So our research suggests that even casual online sharing and observation-only participation can serve an important role as an early form of civic engagement for young people.”
Marchi and Clark’s discoveries relate broadly to the under 21 age group in general, regardless of where they live or other factors, with one exception. Marchi said, “Both in our own research and in large national and international studies that have been conducted, there is little difference across race, ethnicity or gender in how young people consume news. They are getting their news and learning about current events from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and other social media formats. However, we did find that low-income, minoritized and immigrant young people are more skeptical of mainstream news than upper income youth, in that they often feel that their communities are underserved or misrepresented by mainstream media.”
Marchi explained that the book is already being used “by university courses focused on journalism and news consumption as well as classes that study children, youth and media."
“While we haven't solved the crisis of journalism in our book, we know that any model of the future of news must consider the emergent practices of young people in relation to social media connectivity; the neoliberal cultural environment that shapes and limits current understandings of citizenship and participation; and the emergent infrastructure of digital media that requires greater transparency to facilitate truly democratic information-sharing in an age in which meaningful public deliberation has been largely replaced by spectacle and performance,” Marchi said.