U of M researchers using Facebook application to engage youth in news

Project seeks new ways for media to connect with young audiences

Photo: Dr. Christine Greenhow.

MINNEAPOLIS / ST. PAUL - University of Minnesota researcher Christine Greenhow, Seattle-based news aggregator NewsCloud and student newspaper The Minnesota Daily today announced the launch of the Minnesota Daily Facebook application. The Minnesota Daily application aims to become the hub of news and sharing for U of M students and community, combining both professional student and citizen journalism. Researchers will use it to test new ways to engage youth in news and information through social media.

The Daily, the U of M's 109 year-old independent, student-run newspaper, has teamed up with researchers to provide the application with its Web content. The application, funded by a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, includes an incentive-based feature for users that allows them to receive points for completed challenges and to comment and share stories with Facebook friends. After a user gains a certain number of points, they are eligible for prizes offered by The Minnesota Daily.

"It could revolutionize the way young people engage and interact with news through their social network," said Vadim Lavrusik, editor in chief and co-publisher of The Minnesota Daily.

Moreover, Lavrusik said, the application could provide a future business model for media organizations that are struggling to find viable revenue on the Web. Media groups with such applications could work with business to post challenges to the users that they would gain points for, such as visiting a business' Website or attending a restaurant's happy hour, resulting in direct business to the advertisers. "It changes the way we think about Web advertising, but business could see direct results," Lavrusik said.

U of M researchers, led by Greenhow, will use the data provided by application users to investigate how online social network sites such as Facebook can engage youth in world events, build community and generate real world impact. The study, with an anticipated publication date of fall 2009, seeks to discover which strategies work best to engage 16 to 25 year-olds in current events and how the Internet can be used to educate, inform and connect students in new and powerful ways.

"Understanding how youth not only consume online information but manipulate, produce and talk through it for social and educational purposes will move us closer to understanding how to develop students' digital age competencies, such as their online communication, collaboration, and citizenship, thus informing the design and development of successful media-rich environments," Greenhow said.

The Minnesota Daily application is the second media publication on Facebook launched by Greenhow‘s team of researchers. The first, called "Hot Dish: Serving up the hottest climate news" launched in March 2009 and focuses on building community and sharing news around climate change.

According to a recent study by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, the proportion of young people getting no news on a typical day has increased from 25 to 34 percent since 1998.

"It's important that we find new ways to reverse these trends by engaging young people where they increasingly spend time -- online in social networks," said Gary Kebbel, Knight Foundation journalism program director.

"We're excited to apply our technology to support Dr. Greenhow's research," said NewsCloud founder Jeff Reifman, the Seattle organization behind the application's development. "We hope these publications serve as a model for using Facebook to engage younger readers in important current events."

To view The Minnesota Daily Facebook application, visit: http://apps.facebook.com/mndaily/

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. We believe that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit www.knightfoundation.org.