Seriously social : crafting opinion leaders to spur a two-step flow of news
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Since the 1960s, the United States has experienced steady declines in news consumption and commensurate attrition in civic engagement and political participation. Americans read newspapers at less than one fourth the rate of 60 years ago; voter turnout has fallen to the point where the U.S. ranks 23 out of 24 established democracies; signing petitions, volunteering for a civic organization like the PTA and political party affiliation are all at contemporary lows. But these indicators only tell half the story…the younger half. Because among Americans over age 50, attrition in all these areas is much milder; among those under age 30 they are much steeper. So do young adults get news? If so, how do they get news? If not, how do they find out about things? A 21-year old journalism student reported that: “I usually just hear it from friends, when I talk to friends.” The present study employed four methods: Secondary analysis of longitudinal Pew data; interviews and focus groups about news consumption and media use habits, including social media and wireless devices; a survey on social media use and its relationship to news and news knowledge; and an experiment testing a novel game as a way to convey news and civics knowledge, all involving students at three large state universities. Findings include the following: students often rank social media use, like Facebook, as their most important and most-used media; social media are negatively related with traditional news use and with news knowledge; students draw clear and important distinctions between news and information; one method of teaching (direct instruction) works well while another (a news game) works, but not as well. Of particular interest is the role of opinion leaders in the two-step flow of news, and the role of relevance and need for orientation in agenda setting. Novel contributions include a clearer definition of students’ distinction between news and important information as they define it, a framework by which to experiment with creating an interactive game using news to promote news seeking, and some provocative recommendations for future research.