Navigating the News: New report details how youth express low trust in media, vary strategies to verify content

Press Release

March 1, 2017

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Data & Society study shows how U.S. youth engage with mobile and social news content

NEW YORK – March 1, 2017 – A new report finds that teens and young adults express low levels of trust in the news media and use a variety of strategies to confirm, verify, and clarify the stories they care about, according to a study produced by Data & Society Research Institute and supported by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

The report, “How Youth Navigate the News Landscape,” explores youth news consumption behavior on mobile and social media. It reveals how young people are adapting to a changing media environment to access news they trust.

The report is based on findings from six exploratory focus groups with 52 teenagers and young adults in three U.S. cities: Philadelphia, Chicago, and Charlotte, North Carolina. With a focus on understanding the growing influence of mobile devices, social media, and messaging apps, the report provides insights for journalists and other organizations looking to engage younger audiences in the growing mobile news ecosystem.

“Teens and young adults are on the front lines of navigating an incredibly complex information environment,” said Mary Madden, a researcher at Data & Society and one of the authors of the report. “Long-held assumptions about the patterns and rhythms of news consumption are being upended by a generation that largely experiences journalism through mobile apps and algorithm-controlled social media platforms.”

Among the key findings:

  • News is frequently encountered by accident, as young people dip into flows of news across various platforms.
  • Patterns of verification and discernment in confirming trustworthy sources vary among teens and young adults.
  • Certain behaviors—such as taking screenshots of news stories to share them with friends—may elude current tools to record and track traffic to news platforms.

Lack of trust and perceived bias in the news was an important theme across all focus groups. On social media, youth are regularly exposed to a range of news content of varying quality that they must learn to assess both independently and collectively. In this environment, many young people assume a great deal of personal responsibility for educating themselves and actively seeking out opposing viewpoints.

“These findings illustrate a variety of innovative strategies that young people are using to assess the veracity of the news stories they find online,” said Amanda Lenhart, senior research scientist at the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and a co-author of the report. “Teens and young adults range widely across different news platforms, consulting multiple sources in an attempt to verify and clarify stories they encounter.”

“These findings provide news organizations with a reference point to develop new approaches to mobile news innovation and audience engagement, opening opportunities to build trust with younger audiences,” said Luz Gomez, director of research at Knight Foundation. “As journalists work to discover fresh ways to engage audiences and understand the habits of the next generation of news consumers, this report offers a detailed look into how young people conceptualize and consume news in digital spaces—and which sources they trust.”

The report follows on an earlier study by Knight Foundation and Nielsen in 2016, which looked at trends in news consumption on mobile devices.

Read the full report at: http://kng.ht/youthnews

About the study

In June and July of 2016, Knight Foundation commissioned a series of focus groups with 52 teenagers and young adults from across the United States to learn more about how young people conceptualize and consume news in digital spaces—with a focus on understanding the growing influence of mobile devices, social media and messaging apps. The research team conducted six exploratory focus groups of about 90 minutes each in three cities in the United States: Philadelphia, Chicago and Charlotte, North Carolina. Participants were between the ages of 14 and 24 and included an even mix of young men and women. 

About Data & Society

Data & Society is a research institute in New York City that is focused on social and cultural issues arising from data-centric technological development. Data & Society is committed to identifying issues at the intersection of technology and society, providing research that can ground public debates, and building a network of researchers and practitioners who can offer insight and direction. For more, visit datasociety.net.

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Knight Foundation is a national foundation with strong local roots. We invest in journalism, in the arts, and in the success of cities where brothers John S. and James L. Knight once published newspapers. Our goal is to foster informed and engaged communities, which we believe are essential for a healthy democracy. For more, visit knightfoundation.org.

Contact:

Sam Hinds Garcia, Director of Communications, Data & Society Research Institute, [email protected], 646-603-3547

Rosemary D’Amour, Digital Communications Officer, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, [email protected], 305-908-2623