James McPherson's Media & Politics Blog

Observations of a patriotic progressive historian, media critic & former journalist


  • By the author of The Conservative Resurgence and the Press: The Media’s Role in the Rise of the Right and of Journalism at the End of the American Century, 1965-Present. A former journalist with a Ph.D. in journalism, history and political science, McPherson is a past president of the American Journalism Historians Association, a board member for the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media, and a professor of communication studies at Whitworth University.

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WOW! Young people access news differently than grandparents

Posted by James McPherson on June 2, 2008

Surprise, surprise, surprise–“The news consumption of younger readers differs profoundly from that of of previous generations,” notes Fox News reporting on the results of a survey apparently done by a research firm on behalf of the Associated Press. The story (from today, not from 10 years ago as might be expected from the “news” value) reports that the project “analyzed the news consumption patterns of an ethnically diverse group of 18 men and women in six cities between the ages of 18 and 34 in the United States, Britain and India.” Near the end of the article we learn that the repondents came from four U.S. area (Houston, Philadelphia, Kansas City and the Silicon Valley), Brighton, Britain, and Hyderabad, India. Why those locations were chosen isn’t clear–perhaps those are locations where the researcher had MySpace friends.

According to the Fox story (titled “Young Adults Hit by ‘News Fatigue,’ Study Finds”), the results were to be presented in a 71-page report “to media executives and editors from around the globe at at the World Editors Forum in Goteburg, southwestern Sweden.” What, the execs don’t have e-mail?

And pardon me, but EIGHTEEN people? I probably can do a more comprehensive survey than from one class at any major university in the country. And though we don’t know what AP paid, I’d probably do it cheaper than the Context-Based Research Group, a company formed less than a decade ago “to help marketers and product designers do better work through the power of ethnography.” By the way, this is ethnography without all the time and effort required through traditional research: “Context clients don’t have the luxury of spending years in the field, as traditional ethnographers do. We’ve developed a series of rapid information gathering techniques we call upon to make the most of every second we spend with a participant–to go deep, fast.”

The company’s husband-and-wife leaders apparently both did graduate research with the Sokamin hunter-gatherer community in Papua, New Guinea (no word on Sokamin use of the Internet for news content). Context also has a page listing various articles citing its research, producing such deep and/or fast quotes as, “People are slowly coming up with new ways of thinking about thin” (about technology); “Novelty is driving the market for virtual gifts and goods” about virtual gift-giving); and, “When people have kids, they want them to fit into their idea of who they are, of the identity they’ve carved out for themselves. ‘If I drive a BMW, my child has to have a Bugaboo stroller, etc.'” (about high-end baby haulers).

Actually I see why marketers rely on ethnographic research–it can mean big money, as “Frontline” documented in “The Merchants of Cool.” “The new core competency is ethnography,” BusinessWeek reports, while the Economist notes, that “corporate anthropology is now mainstream.”

But isn’t the Associated Press made up of news people, who might have been able to report the obvious on their own? Or AP could have just watched the Kansas State video I’ve shared previously–after all, it includes the feedback of two hundred young people, and reports such things as “I will read eight books this year … 2300 Web pages & 1281 FaceBook profiles.” Also, “I will write 42 pages for class this semester … and over 500 pages of email,” and “I spend 1 1/2 hours watching TV each night … I spend 3 1/2 hours a day online.” The students also added many other things that go into their day, totalling 26.5 hours per day, reflecting their ability to multitask. And of course the students did the estimates themselves, so some of the figures may be off a bit–but they paint a pretty good picture of the obvious conclusion arrived at by the Context researchers, which is that “participants were unable to give full attention to the news because they were almost always simultaneously engaged in other activities, such as reading e-mail. That represents a shift from previous consumption models in which people sat down to watch the evening news or read the morning paper.”

In truth, there was another key finding (which I reported here a few weeks ago, based on a single-class-period survey of one of my classes): “Participants yearned for quality and in-depth reporting but had difficulty immediately accessing such content because they were bombarded by facts and updates in headlines and snippets of news.” My students said, “The media should seek out and provide more contextual background information and critical reporting–that is … and engage in less speculation and infotainment.”

The Context recommendation? “The authors recommended that news producers develop easier ways for readers to discover in-depth content and to avoid repetitious updates of breaking news.” That has seemed obvious to a lot of us for a long time. But now that AP has paid for the information, maybe they’ll use it.

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3 Responses to “WOW! Young people access news differently than grandparents”

  1. […] WOW! Young people access news differently than grandparents […]

  2. […] WOW! Young people access news differently than grandparents […]

  3. […] WOW! Young people access news differently than grandparents […]

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