The Pew Research Center has released research around how Americans encounter, recall, and act upon digital news. It reveals a lot of interesting information that I believe would largely be reflected in New Zealand.
There are a couple of points that stood out to me as someone who is interested in, and concerned about how consumers of news shape what news outlets ultimately produce and therefore what journalists feel pressured to conform to.
- The two most prominent ways of accessing digital news are direct contact through a news org website or app (36%), or via social media (35%). Accessing news via social media was much higher among younger people.
- The ability to recall the source of the news was lower when it was encountered through social media. That ability to recall the source of the news was lower among younger people than their older counterparts.
If younger people are accessing their news by social media at a higher rate, and are less able to recall the source of the news they are consuming, then over time we can expect to see social media play an even bigger role in the dissemination of news and an increase in the stats around the lack of ability to recall the news source.
Both of these are concerning. Social media becoming a dominant means to aggregate and disseminate news allows for an increase in the already strong confirmation bias that takes place in our news consumption. Social media platforms have different goals from news outlets, and their algorithms works accordingly. Because of their design, our social media feeds most often give us stories that confirm our already established biases.
The lack of ability to recall the news source creates problems in that it allows for stories to be shared from outlets and people with no credentials and/or reputable ability and experience relevant to whatever information is being disseminated. All they need to be able to do is confirm an already held bias within a certain sector of society.
In an age of information overload, where the resources of traditional news outlets are being squeezed, this should give us all cause to pause and consider how we consume news and it should encourage us to read widely, especially outside of our social media feeds.
For the consumption of digital news I would suggest picking a number of reputable news outlets that represent a breadth of thought (which includes some that we disagree with), bookmarking their websites or getting their apps, and making a habit of scanning their stories. I do this daily to begin my work-day. My habit will be different from what works for you, but moving beyond our social media feeds to encounter news stories is healthy.
Rev. Francis (Frank) Ritchie is the Director and lead chaplain for Media Chaplaincy New Zealand. If you work in the news media and would like to sit down and have a confidential chat with Frank over coffee to discuss life and work, feel free to get in touch via the ‘Contact’ page.