If you’re an old (expletive deleted) like me and you really want to get depressed, try asking a few representatives of today’s young adult generation
where they get their news. I did just that a few weeks ago with members of the online UNC journalism class I taught this past summer. And what was the most common reply from these bright young academics?
When today’s modern generation want to read news or opinions about what’s going on in the wider world, their most likely reaction is to whip out their smartphones and scroll through the latest tweets. Or Snapchat stories.
This recent finding came as no surprise. I’ve had similar responses for the past couple of years when I raised the same question in my regular in-class sessions in Chapel Hill. And these are journalism students.
“I get most of my news online when I’m scrolling through Twitter and see the headlines,” said a summer student named Ashley, originally from Texas.
Troubling? Well, yes and no.
For one thing, we are talking mostly about national and international news and opinion here. For local stuff, at least some students acknowledge that they might sometimes pick up a newspaper when they’re back in their hometowns. And when they’re in Chapel Hill, they pay quite a bit of attention to The Daily Tar Heel, whether in print or online.
Also: When people are scrolling through Twitter — I spend quite a bit of time doing that myself these days — they are not necessarily settling for nibbles of info. Twitter is constantly offering them connections to more substantial stories from newspapers or TV stations or websites or whatever sources they have previously designated.
“Those Tweets or threads usually have links to articles, or various people speaking on the information who have actually done their research,” Ashley said, “and I go from there. ... I normally rate the reliability and objectivity of the sources on Twitter by looking at various viewpoints on the subject.”
Another summer student, Katie, from Raleigh, expressed similar thoughts.
“I understand that Twitter and Snapchat are not reliable sources for news at all,” she said. “They’re just simply the most accessible for me and present news in the most interesting ways. My attention span isn’t the greatest, so it usually takes a bright graphic or a funny meme to grab my attention and make me want to check out an article.”
In other words, Twitter is not so much a source of news as a set of pathways to other sources.
Zack, who hails from Clayton, had one thing to say that has to be of comfort to those involved in putting out nondaily, community-oriented papers like The Pilot: “I think local news is more objective and dependable than national news outlets. … Most local news workers live in the community they report on, so they have a higher inclination to display facts and truth because it directly affects them.”
And Jenna, unlike most of the other students, said she hardly ever stoops to Twitter. And she has some serious doubts about the credibility of other available sources.
“I believe the dependability and objectivity of America’s news media is relatively low, especially in regard to national news,” wrote Jenna, who grew up in Nebraska. “A lot of times, it is easy to tell reporters’ own political beliefs, which I do not care to know. I just want to know the facts and both sides of the story.”
Yes, it’s a different news world out there these days. On balance, though, I find most of these student responses somewhat more thoughtful and encouraging than folks of my generation might have expected.
Consider these comments by student Eleanor, from Edenton:
“I feel like many big national news outlets have lost objectivity to some degree. … Because of this, I think it is important for individuals to follow multiple news networks and papers to get a well-rounded understanding of what is happening around them.”
See, she even mentioned “papers!”
Steve Bouser is the retired editor and Opinion editor of The Pilot. Contact him at email@example.com.