A recent Quinnipiac University poll that found 29 percent of American voters see Fox News as “the most trusted” source for network and cable news coverage was not surprising since it’s not the first time that’s happened.
But the poll piqued my curiosity regarding my own Media Literacy students’ news preferences, so I decided to query these 12th graders.
Using the website Poll Everywhere, my students responded via cell phone to questions on the SMART Board where, almost immediately, results appeared.
Unlike the Quinnipiac respondents, the nearly 40 students who participated did not see Fox News as the “most trusted” TV news source. Rather, CNN garnered 30 percent of the votes, while CBS came in second at 22 percent. Fox News was near the bottom at 9 percent.
Since the class had recently studied the early days of TV news, I thought Quinnipiac’s question regarding the trustworthiness of today’s television news compared to that of Walter Cronkite’s day would be another relevant question.
Interestingly, my students were less trusting than adult voters: 48 percent of the Quinnipiac respondents found today’s news “less trustworthy” compared to a whopping 84 percent of my students.
Perhaps this is a reflection of how today’s younger folks first access their news – in short, not through national TV.
When asked, 30 percent of my students said they found news through a social-media source (Twitter, Snapchat, or Facebook); 7 percent used a specific app to do so. The remaining students relied on a wide variety of sources, from their parents to local TV news to the Media Lit class itself.
While far from scientific, I believe the results from the classroom poll underscore important trends.
Specifically, national television news attracts a demographic much older than high school and college students. Instead, cell phones have become the younger consumers’ go-to source.
To this point, Snapchat recently launched a news app where the “stories put on the app by partners such as CNN, ESPN, and National Geographic vanish quickly.”
“But the hope is that the estimated tens of millions of Snapchat users – mostly between 13 and 25 – also will swipe to view a video on the crisis in Ukraine, take a cute pet quiz, or try out a cronuts recipe found on the app.”
While young people do not ignore the news, the way they find it is different – and, frankly, a bit worrisome.
Since much of the news today is discovered and read on screens, it might not be sufficiently perused or absorbed.
“[E]vidence from laboratory experiments, polls, and consumer reports indicates that modern screens and e-readers fail to adequately recreate certain tactile experiences of reading on paper that many people miss and, more importantly, prevent people from navigating long texts in an intuitive and satisfying way,” reports Scientific American. “In turn, such navigational difficulties may subtly inhibit reading comprehension.”
For example, “the screen only displays a single virtual page: it is there and then it is gone. Instead of hiking the trail yourself, the trees, the rocks and moss move past you in flashes with no trace of what came before and no way to see what lies ahead.”
Put another way, “If the rise of nonstop cable TV news gave the world a culture of sound bites,” says Tufts neuroscientist Maryanne Wolf, “the Internet is bringing about an eye byte culture.”
But, Wolf adds, “We can’t turn back.” Kids today need “bi-literate brains” that are decoding messages on the printed page while simultaneously “increasing their immersion into the technological, digital age.”
The content of news media, therefore, needs to appeal to both the traditional and the digital brain.
“Why not keep paper and evolve screen-based reading into something else entirely?” asks Scientific American. “Screens obviously offer readers experiences that paper cannot. Scrolling may not be the ideal way to navigate a text as long and as dense as ‘Moby Dick,’ but the New York Times, Washington Post, ESPN, and other media outlets have created beautiful, highly visual articles that depend entirely on scrolling and could not appear in print in the same way.”
Questions remain, however: Do teenagers bother to explore this newfangled content when they see it on their phones? What if they found this op-ed (as if!)? Would they read it or click on any of the links?
Oh heck, just give me the remote. It’s much easier to watch Fox News.
Barth Keck is an English teacher and assistant football coach who also teaches courses in journalism and media literacy at Haddam-Killingworth High School.
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