Poll a group of young adults about reading newspapers and magazines, watching television, listening to radio for their news and you’ll wonder just how they get reliable information. Most will tell you social media is the primary source of their news. But, as a new report indicates, that doesn’t mean they have shunned traditional media and have no interest in its performance.
The report by John S. and James L. Knight Foundation reveals that a majority of young adults share news regularly with their friends, family and social networks. 56% of young adults share news stories at least weekly, with around 1 in 5 sharing news every day.
And the news media shape opinions and decisions.
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 who are highly partisan rely on news to make decisions: 41% of young adults who identify strongly with a political party will use their favorite news source to make decisions about candidates, and 49% of these young adults will do the same when making decisions about policies to support.
That’s the good news. Young people are not as disengaged as often portrayed.
But the news media have reason to be very concerned about how young people see the media’s performance and role.
Though young adults ages 18-34 often share news they find interesting, helpful or entertaining, the survey found that many have concerns with the ideological and political leanings of news sources. A majority are concerned about the impact of news on democracy and unity in the country, expressing that news organizations might divide and polarize citizens.
64% of young adults say their least-liked news source hurts democracy and 73% say their least-liked news source divides the country. Only 47% say their favorite news source helps unite it. When comparing partisan attitudes, 51% of Democrats say their favorite source unites the public, while 42% of Republicans say the same.
Some other findings:
• 45% of young adults say their most-liked news source is neither liberal nor conservative whereas 42% say it has a liberal slant and 13% say it is conservative.
• 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.
• Only 45% of African Americans and 40% of Hispanics say their most-liked source very accurately portrays them. Around 6 in 10 in both groups say their least-liked source portrays them slightly or not at all accurately.
The media landscape and business models continue to evolve and change. But change must not mean abandoning objectivity in news. The report indicates young people perceive that is happening.
Building confidence among people of all ages is more important than ever as professional journalists paint themselves as the source of news upon which people can rely. The report indicates the media are putting themselves at risk.
Sam Gill, Knight Foundation vice president for communities and impact, puts it this way: “The study suggests that young people’s confidence in the media is waning, with a majority saying that some news organizations pose a direct threat to our democracy. This erosion of trust has important implications for the way young people will seek and receive information in the future.”