Did You Know?

College students embrace news in theory, anyway

Following the news is a civic responsibility, agree 63% of U.S. college students. Furthermore, 82% say that news is necessary in a democracy. 

“Yes!” you think. “The kids are all right! They know that an informed populace is key to a healthy society.” 

But what Project Information Literacy also learned (PDF) is that when these young adults think of “news,” they are envisioning the highest ideals of reporting — and they’re not happy with what they often see. One overall finding: “Tension exists between idealized views of journalism and a distrust of news.”

The nonprofit research institute surveyed more than 5,800 students at 11 campuses to understand what young adults think about the role news plays in their lives and how they determine what to believe, finding both support and ambivalence.

College students appreciate “the long-standing core principles of journalism — truth, accuracy, independence and fairness.” But 68% also agree with this statement: “The sheer amount of news on any given day is overwhelming.” And 45% believe this: “It’s difficult to tell real news from fake news.”

Several factors drive the students’ dissatisfaction. One is the “fake news phenomenon,” especially “its far-reaching impact on people’s ability to distinguish truthful and accurate news coverage from misinformation and outright lies.” Another is social media’s “avalanche of news that appeals to news consumers’ emotions rather than conveying credible facts.” Students pointed to newsfeeds that mix fact and opinion in pieces whose sources were unknown or unclear, along with headlines and memes that lack nuance and are often followed by torrents of heated reaction.

And they worry about bias, too.

The researchers offer six recommendations for educators, journalists and librarians to consider for this “generation that has clearly grown skeptical of the pretense of media authority” — but that also believes that following the news is a civic responsibility.

The Project Information Literacy study How Students Engage with News: Five Takeaways for Educators, Journalists, and Librarians was published in October 2018 and based on responses from January to June 2018. It was commissioned by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Association of College and Research Libraries.