Five years later: “If the news is that important, it will find me.”

I asked my communication class, made up of primarily freshmen and sophomores, what their news and information sources are.

The top three answers were Facebook, Twitter and “people I know.” (The New York Times, which is distributed free in the communications building, was the first mainstream news source listed.)

This isn’t surprising to many journalists who have been paying attention.  From the New York Times in March 2007: Ms. Buckingham recalled conducting a focus group where one of her subjects, a college student, said, “If the news is that important, it will find me.”

Problem is, I get the idea that enough journalists aren’t paying attention.

Five years later, many editors and publishers aren’t on Facebook or Twitter. Of those who are, many don’t engage with people beyond promoting stories in their own publications. I should also include television here, too. Only a few of the 33 students mentioned getting news or information from broadcast news. (Their websites got decent numbers, though.)

Though they didn’t use this language, the students essentially described Facebook and Twitter as their own personal news sources — news sources they designed comprised of people they knew and trusted giving them information about both their personal lives  and the broader world.

The point? If journalists want to survive — to say nothing of flourish today — they must be part of the conversation of this generation of budding thinkers and news creators and consumers. They need to evaluate all the tools that Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc. offer and figure out what works for them.


3 thoughts on “Five years later: “If the news is that important, it will find me.”

  1. I’d go a step further than just making sure journalists go where the audience is.

    We need current, focused research on how the news is finding people and what those sources of news really are. The answers would serve more than journalism; they would serve our civic structure.

    In September 2011, the Pew Internet and American Life project released a study about how people learn about their community, and 55 percent of those surveyed listed word of mouth.

    We don’t know details about what “word of mouth” means. Is that social media? Is that a text from parents and friends? Is it a Google group or a listserv? Or a chat on the sidewalk, with a news influencer who read the news at a new independent news website?

    Most research so far also attributes news sources to “Facebook” or “Twitter” without acknowledging that those sources are often distribution mechanisms for other media sources. We need a way to drill down and see where the original sources are so we can find ways to support those sources. For civic good, we need to figure out the real sources of information that help people decide how to vote.

    For now, super PAC millions pour into network TV, which has dwindling audiences. A research study on news sources for voting decisions in North Carolina’s May 8 primary, which includes a constitutional amendment on a key issue for young voters, would help lots. It could help shape our understanding of how election information gets to people, in time for November and for later.

    And yes, this idea is a leftover obsession from a class last semester. Sorry to rattle on. You’re not the first to survey students and discover the power of social media for information for a new, big generation, but lots of other sources or original sources are ill defined. Research can help show who is really providing quality information, how it moves and reaches people passively, and then maybe we can figure out how to support the news gatherers and curators along the way.

  2. It’s all about leadership by example. Until the people at the top exhibit they know how to use the tools — and, more importantly, USE them — they can’t expect those below them to be serious about engaging in it. Journalists will do what they need to do when held accountable.

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