The questions I presented to my journalism class this week were intended to elicit expected responses – 20-somethings aren’t reading newspapers, or for that matter, reading news in general.
Surprised? You shouldn’t be.
I’ve been in the classroom, either as an adjunct or a grown-up professor since 1993 and over that time, the responses haven’t differed greatly. Career aspirations aside, young people aren’t generally interested in what’s happening around them, especially if it’s off campus. Or, maybe it’s just those who lack interest always find their way into my classes.
This semester’s class at Ohio State didn’t swing the pendulum much. Here’s what a small sample survey (26) can tell me about college students and news literacy. Keep in mind these are journalism students. Your results may differ depending on size sample and the students’ majors.
- About half the students in this required reporting class for a journalism minor are interested in working in journalism.
- Most students consume news daily, but most not more than once a day. None more than three times.
- Students tend to be driven to news outlets based on the news they are seeking — specialized news like sports, arts and pop culture. About half consume news of general interest, but only a few stories.
- Most prefer condensed news of major events. Few dive deep into coverage.
- Nearly all of them consume news on mobile devices.
- Besides mobile, the other contenders (in order): TV, tablets, radio, online and print.
- The preferred news outlets are: AP, CNN, the OSU Lantern and a combination of the TV networks.
- About half of the students read a magazine.
- Students are concerned most about what happens on campus. Then, back home.
- Online is still a draw for students, but not so much for news. It’s more for researching and learning.
- Social media is big, just not Facebook. One student described it as old school. Another said parents and older adults have ruined it. Many think it’s become a vehicle to connect with old friends. They don’t have that many “old” friends, and they’re connected in other ways.
Not a lot of this is groundbreaking. Young people want news on convenient devices, and they want condensed versions. That’s not a dramatic break from news consumers of all ages.
A couple things did surprise me: TV was ahead of online for news preference, and radio was used for news by about 75 percent of the class. That’s at least anecdotally a shift from what they were saying as little as 3-5 years ago. Online was ahead of TV and radio.
The comments about Facebook follow a trend that’s been reported by the national media for the past few years. Some of that has been debunked, but from their own mouths these students think Facebook has worn out its welcome among college students. At least the obsession that I saw with students about five years back — students then admitted to checking Facebook about 10-15 times a day — seems to have abated. But, five years ago, these students were in high school, and if I’ve learned anything from teaching all these years is that college students are happy to ditch high school behavior once they set foot on campus.
In these classes, my end goals are always the same: Teach them good reporting and writing skills, but also instill in them the importance of being passionate news consumers. Once a day won’t cut it.