Gender and age in the mobile news landscape

technology / Article

Photo: Girl waiting for the train by Toshihiro Gamo on Flickr.

Natalie “Talia” Stroud is an associate professor of communication studies, assistant director of research at the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life, and director of the Engaging News Project at the University of Texas at Austin.

Many findings about the political and news habits of women and young people are depressing. Women know less about politics and follow political news less frequently than men. Young people are less politically engaged and less likely to consume news than their older counterparts.

Given these findings, the recent “Mobile-First News” report from Knight Foundation and Nielsen offers a different narrative. The study reveals that women and young people are more likely than their demographic opposites to engage with news via social media on mobile devices.

Turning to social media apps for news seems a natural fit for young people. The Engaging News Project, an initiative to research democratically beneficial and commercially viable strategies for improving digital news, recently hosted a workshop where part of the day was dedicated to having digital news leaders talk with millennials from the University of Texas at Austin. Many of the students noted that convenience influenced their news habits and that social media represented an easy way to get news and information. News transmitted through social media seamlessly fits with existing habits among younger, mobile-savvy audiences.

That women are more likely than men to get news from social media apps is particularly interesting. Here’s one possible spin on the finding: The Nielsen analysis finds that Facebook is the most frequently used social media app. On Facebook, one connects with friends and family – exactly the sorts of people where maintaining a good relationship is paramount. And although there is some diversity among friend networks, a large share of our Facebook friends tend to share our political leanings. It could be that this is precisely the sort of congenial environment in which women gain political knowledge and engage with news. In their research, Jennifer Wolak and Michael McDevitt found that young women learn more about politics when talking with their parents and in politically homogeneous communities. Facebook may be an online environment particularly conducive to engaging women.

Overall, these findings should spark investigations of how and why news from social media apps engages women and younger audiences differently. Even more, we should ask whether mobile news from social media informs women and inspires younger audiences to get involved in politics. For news organizations, the results should motivate creative thinking about how to cater to different audiences via social media apps. I hope that the findings from the Knight report help to start this conversation.

Email Natalie Stroud via [email protected].

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