It Ain’t Just How College Students Get the News

John Robinson, not long ago the editor of the Greensboro News & Record, is now teaching journalism to students at UNC-Chapel Hill. He’s written a blog post about how his students get their news, and while it’s not exactly shocking, it’s still interesting.

This is how one of my student’s began the diary of her day’s media interactions:

  • 8:15 a.m.: phone alarm sounds, snooze it
  • 8:30 a.m.: phone alarm sounds again, snooze it
  • 8:45 a.m.: phone alarm sounds again, turn it off
  • 8:50 a.m.: begin checking phone
  • Check text messages, respond
  • Check UNC emails
  • Check personal emails
  • Check Facebook
  • Check Twitter
  • Check Yik Yak
  • 9:05 a.m. Turn on laptop and begin work

That’s pretty much how she ended the day, too, minus the alarm.

I had 35 students in one of my classes record every interaction with media they had over the course of two days. The exercise surprised most of them with how reliant — addicted, in the words of several — they are to their phones and to social media. Putting aside the above student’s wake-up routine, it’s worth noting where her first stops of the day are not:No newspaper, no TV for news or otherwise, no CNN website. If it isn’t on her social media, she’s not going to get it.

That’s not uncommon, either. In fact, it would be more common if you add two more stops: “Check Instagram.” And “Check Snapchat. Respond to Snaps.”

As I read this I had to chuckle because if you were to push the time frame up – I am almost 50 and I have a hard time remembering the last time I slept that late – that’s pretty much how I roll in the morning too. I do consume news directly from traditional sources like newspapers, TV news and magazines, but honestly I do that more for depth and background than for news itself. Almost all of the interesting stories I read are shared with me by someone on one of my multitude of social networks and I seriously doubt I’m the only person in my demographic who can say that.

Later on in his post John writes, “They simply don’t access a great deal of mainstream news media outlets in their course of the day. They often get the news indirectly. But they still get it. (I was a college student once pre-Internet and they know a lot more about what’s going on in the world than most of my classmates did.)” That was true of my college experience too. So many people gave me funny looks when they saw me reading a newspaper or magazine even though it wasn’t assigned school work. Sure, plenty of people cared about news but many did not then and still don’t to this day.

What’s interesting to me is that most people I know in the working world already behave the way his students do. Many of them never paid attention to the news before social networks, and now they actually do because they’re bombarded by shares from their friends. (The reliability of these sources can be questioned, but that’s a post for another day). In my mind if a media company figures out the sharing economy then it’s made itself relevant. If not? Well, bless their hearts.

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