America’s first digital generation speaks
Researchers and social critics have worried that the newest generation of American adults is less interested in news than those who grew up in the pre-digital age. But a new study that looks closely at how people learn about the world on these different devices and platforms finds that this newest generation of American adults is anything but “newsless,” passive, or civically uninterested.
– Center for Media Research
What is it with those millennials and their 24/7 connectedness? They always have their nose in a smartphone or tablet . . . could it be that they are using those devices to stay informed actively about their local and global communities?
The Center for Media Research reported on a Media Insight Project that found that not only do millennials value being informed, but they are devoting at least part of their time on social media to accomplishing this goal.
You can read the report here. Because we’re intrigued by how our personal experiences match up to what is reported in research circles, Association Adviser writers (and millennials) Kelly Donovan Clark, Jake Gregory and Brianna Lawson sat down to discuss this report and share their thoughts about it.
Lawson: Today, social media is a powerful tool used by all generations. As a millennial, I consume news in a number of ways. Therefore, I disagree with the finding that almost half of millennials are using Facebook as their main motivation for obtaining news and that 88 percent of millennials obtain news from Facebook regularly. I feel that millennials are more likely to use Twitter for this purpose. When I log in to my Facebook account, I very rarely search for news. Facebook is more personal than Twitter. When I use Twitter, I’m searching for trending articles related to my career, blog posts related to things I’m interested in, and what’s going on in the world today that isn’t related to what I search for and read about on Facebook.
Clark: It could be true that a higher percentage of survey respondents reported using Facebook for news than the general millennial population. However, only 37 percent of American millennials are on Twitter, while 87 percent use Facebook. It doesn’t surprise me that half of our generation reports learning about news from Facebook because so many of us are on the platform, and Facebook is intentionally incorporating more news features into its service in an effort to increase the amount of time we use the site. We may primarily use Facebook to catch up with friends and family, but we browse the news in that right-hand sidebar while we’re at it.
What surprises me is that Facebook was reported as the No. 1 gateway for news. Among my older millennial circles, news apps and daily news digests like The Skimm have become our primary sources of breaking news – that is, if we don’t hear it on radio or TV first. A quick survey of working friends revealed that many of us tune into talk radio during our commutes because we tire of listening to music, and because talk radio is an easy, passive way to stay informed. (NPR was by far the most-cited talk radio station.) Among friends still in school or at home with kids, TV is still a common source of news.
Gregory: Really? Extreme left and extreme right platforms such as MSNBC and Fox, respectively have tainted television news programs for me. They spend a lot of time talking and very little time communicating information. If I am speaking for millennials, news gathering comes down to convenience. If we can stay informed about national and local topics through social media, we will be satisfied.
Lawson: I agree that millennials will dig deeper into news via social media if they know the source well. I won’t click through to an article unless the title interests me and I know where the article is from. I don’t want to spend my time on a source in which I’m not interested or that I’ve never heard of. Millennials want information that’s relevant to their interests and that’s easy and quick to obtain. So, to some extent, I do agree with how millennials obtain most of their news today. But, I don’t think that the main source is Facebook.
Gregory: I am interested in the news and like to hear about the happenings of the world around me, but I want to get that information in a certain format. The benefit of receiving news through social media is that it comes in from the perspective of your friends’ interests. Many hold similar thoughts and beliefs, but there are many others who differ and share articles and stories that provide a different lens through which they view life. I enjoy seeing these [viewpoints] because they often are well thought out ideas even though they may differ in stance.
Clark: I like getting info in a certain format, too, but that format usually doesn’t include Facebook or Twitter friends’ opinions. I actively avoid social media during election season, for example, because too often people share news articles with a heaping side of snark. Which is why I agree with MIP’s finding that only 7 percent of millennials use Facebook to dig deeper for news. Sometimes I think social media users care more about looking informed and opinionated than they do about the actual content. Social media IS an appropriate place to air your opinions, but that positioning gives us another reason not to declare radio, TV, and other online news sources dead.
Gregory: I am confident that millennials do care about the news, but with a “microwave culture” [of instant gratification] the delivery of the news must be applicable and relative to the desires of the audience.
Lawson: I also don’t think that social media will splinter with time. Social media is about how people connect constantly with family, friends, colleagues, businesses, famous individuals, and more. Yes, Facebook can be frustrating, but it’s used for a completely different reason than Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, and other popular social media channels. I also don’t agree [with researchers] that Facebook is used as a utility one has to use. I’ve had Facebook longer than any other social media channel and it’s the one I use the most. It’s more for enjoyment than anything else. If I’m searching for news on a particular subject, I won’t use Facebook.
Clark: Older millennials who have been using Facebook since its inception in 2004, and who remember how simple and relatively private it was back then, are getting tired of using it. Especially if they have kids, they are concerned about how private their information and their kids’ photos are. It’s not government surveillance that scares them; it’s the fact that Facebook ads and sponsored tweets seem to know what’s going on in their lives before they post anything about it. (Such as seeing ads for baby strollers right before they announce they are pregnant.) However, many users don’t feel like they can close their accounts because Facebook is so ubiquitous: they fear they won’t be able to keep in touch with non-local friends and family, or with social groups that host their news and plans on social media. Plus, despite the plethora of other news sources available, we admit that getting news updates from social media is convenient, and we don’t want to give up that benefit of connected life.
Gregory: “News updates” in my opinion, cover an extremely broad spectrum, and I think that is something that has to be kept in mind in order to fully relate to millennials. The digital age has changed the way information travels, this is observed and understood by all, regardless of age. Millennials happen to be in a very interesting position, being familiar with how things were, and how they are now.
Kelly Donovan Clark is the manager for online marketing at Naylor Association Solutions.
Brianna Lawson is an online marketing specialist at Naylor Association Solutions.
Jake Gregory is a manager at Global Exchange Events.