Their intensive ethnographic research involved a decade of studying high school students in Boston, Denver, Philadelphia and New Jersey to learn how 14–19 year olds consume news, and how youthful social media practices may inspire political activism.
As a result of their research, SC&I's Associate Professor of Journalism and Media Studies Regina Marchi and her co-author, Lynn Schofield Clark, developed a new way of describing and understanding the different ways this age group consumes and shares media, a concept they call “Connective Journalism.” In 2017, Cambridge University Press published the book they co-authored about their work, titled “Young People and the Future of News: Social Media and the Rise of Connective Journalism.”
Their book has just won the 2018 top book award from the Association of Internet Researchers (AoIR), which is the leading international association of scholars conducting research related to the Internet. Marchi and Clark will receive the award in an awards ceremony at the Annual Meeting of the association taking place from October 10–13 in Montreal.
“The AoIR is a trans disciplinary, international association of scholars focused on the most important and innovative research concerning the Internet,” Marchi said. “To have this body recognize our book is a great honor and Lynn and I are thrilled!”
Marchi explained that she and Clark, who is Professor and Chair of the Department of Media, Film and Journalism Studies at the University of Denver, “chose to focus on this population because they were relatively understudied in research about ‘youth and media’ at the time we started our project. Many studies at the time defined ‘young people’ as those who were 18–34.”
A decade ago, at the beginning of their research, Marchi explained, she and Clark were “surprised to learn that many teens were first learning about serious political issues from TV cartoon series such as "South Park" or "The Boondocks," and from satirical ‘news’ comedy shows such as “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” and “Colbert.”
As their research continued, they began to see that teens were using social media more and more in order to share news about national and international events and issues, as well as their opinions and thoughts about what they were reading and viewing. This observation led Marchi and Clark to develop a new ground-breaking concept they defined as “Connective journalism.”
“Connective Journalism,” Marchi said, “is about people sharing news stories and other ‘artifacts of engagement’ (photos, videos, jokes, memes, links, etc.) that have an emotional punch, as a way to share their personal experiences, perspectives and feelings about public issues. It is about the ways that emotions connect individuals to communities of like-minded people and to issues they feel passionate about, potentially leading to collective and connective action.
“Our book focuses on examples of young people being inspired to make positive change in their communities via online practices of connective journalism. The activism we observed dealt with issues of LGBT rights, racism, environmental justice, improving public transportation for low-income students and other progressive issues. But, of course, people can feel passionate about white supremacy or fascism and can use practices of connective journalism to share news and information related to these issues. We discuss the dangers of this towards the end of the book. However, the concept of connective journalism offers useful insights into the directions in which citizen journalism, democratic deliberation and political participation can develop in the future, since our book is about ‘the future of news.’”
Marchi and Clark were inspired to undertake this research, because, Marchi explained, “In the early 2000s there were a number of prominent studies concluding that young people were not interested in news or politics, that they were ‘apathetic’ and ‘tuned out.’ We suspected that although it LOOKED like that, given the decrease in traditional news consumption among people under 30, it wasn't as simple as that. So, we began to interview young people about how they learned about current events and issues that were important to them. We met many young people who cared 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 contemporary 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 explained how the findings in their book could potentially impact the field of journalism and undergraduate journalism programs: “In order to better understand the current situation of journalism,” she said, “we emphasize that there is a need for a more expansive definition of journalistic practices, and a more precise understanding of the relationship between digital media literacy and participation in the storytelling that makes a difference to public life. In an attempt to rethink concepts of citizenship and ‘publics’ in the twenty-first century, we take seriously the everyday media sharing practices of young people that have largely been dismissed as trivial, self- absorbed, or politically disengaged.
“‘News" is no longer exclusively defined by the industries or professionals associated with journalism, but is defined, elaborated, and spread in relation to the interests and needs of networked groups of people linked together at any given moment by their relationship to unfolding events and concerns. It is important for budding journalists to recognize this. It is also important, we argue, for journalism schools to teach critical news literacy to their students, since even professional journalists receive little guidance regarding such ethical issues as reusing material they find on social media, for example.”
Asked whether social media has made the group of high school students they studied, and other young people, more knowledgeable and involved in world affairs than past generations, and thus more likely to get involved as adults, Marchi said, “The answer to that is complicated. Social media has made it easier for those people who are passionate about a certain topic to get information about it. At the same time, it has also made it easier for fake news to be spread, confusing and misleading people.”
Marchi and Clark feel that in addition to getting news via social media, it’s important for younger generations to keep up with news in such traditional outlets such as newspapers, radio and TV, and that this practice it is “something that needs to be encouraged,” Marchi said. “We discuss the need for critical news literacy training in middle schools, high schools and universities so that young people can understand what comprises quality and trustworthy news. They need to know which professional news sources they can turn to in order to trace the origins of a certain story and find out if it is reliable or not. They need to be encouraged to seek out these sources of reliable news on a regular basis."
To learn more about Marchi and Clark’s new concept of “Connective Journalism,” click here or below to watch a short video.
For more information about the Journalism and Media Studies Department at SC&I, click here.