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Young people rely on the news. Unfortunately, they don’t always find it reliable.

July 12, 2019 | By Michelle Manafy, Editorial Director – DCN @michellemanafy

The good news is that young people continue to read the news. The bad news is that they are losing faith in it. A report released by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation finds that 88% of young adults accessing news at least weekly, which includes 53% that do so every day. Conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago, the report analyzes the findings of a survey of 1,660 adults between the ages of 18 and 34.

Unsurprisingly, young adults of all races are highly digital news consumers. They find their news on social media, smartphone alerts, or news websites. And a majority of young adults share news regularly with their friends, family and social networks. Fifty-six percent of young adults share news stories at least weekly, with around 1 in 5 sharing news every day.

Political leanings and learnings

Certainly, it is heartening that young people rely on the news. However, it is unfortunate to note that the report found that a majority of young adults are concerned about the impact of news on democracy and unity in the country, expressing that news organizations may actually divide and polarize citizens.

The survey found that many young adults have concerns about the ideological and political leanings of news sources, according to the survey. In fact, a majority believes certain news sources have ideological positions, divide society, and hurt democracy.

Cultural and ethnic perspectives

Given that the report surveyed large samples of African American and Hispanic participants, the results offer significant insights across races and ethnicities. In particular:

  • A majority of young adults rely on news to make decisions, particularly young African American people: More than 60% of young adults use their favorite news source to decide which policies to support. And more than 50% do the same when deciding who should have their votes. Young African Americans are twice as likely to do this as young white Americans.
  • Young adults largely believe that their race or ethnicity is not covered regularly in the media: Overall, 31% of young adults say that people of their race, or issues that affect people of their race, are rarely covered in their most-liked news sources. Forty-seven percent say the same thing about their least-liked news sources.
  • The majority of African American and Hispanic participants do not feel like media sources accurately or fairly portray their groups, when they do get coverage: Only 45% of African Americans and 40% of Hispanics say their most-liked source very accurately portrays them.
  • As young adults question the media’s coverage of race, many get news from ethnic media sources: 58% of African American and 52% of Hispanic young adults use ethnic media sources at least once per week. Seventy-five percent of Hispanics and 71% of African American young adults who say they regularly experience racial discrimination. Thus, they are more likely to use sources that provide news specific to their race or ethnicity.

Use this news

Given the transformation of news consumption, it is gratifying to see that – while they may access it differently than previous generations – today’s youth continue to rely on news to inform significant decisions. Perhaps the fact that much of news consumption takes place once-removed from the source and that it is delivered in often polarized social media contexts are forces driving today’s young news consumers’ perception of the potentially negative impact of news. They are certainly affected by the fact that the news does not consistently reflect their racial and cultural perspectives. While dispiriting, these insights should prove helpful as news organizations seek to better engage and serve young audiences, who are seeking out news that reflects and informs their perspectives.

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