by Richard Lutz
Each year as I watch my first year university students troop dutifully into my classes, I ask them the same question: where do you get your news from?
And each year, the answers change. I have seen, in this unacademic and truly unscientific analysis, the percentage of newspaper usage drop drastically and the dependence on electronic media explode.
When I started this line of questioning five years ago, between 65 percent and 70 percent of the students told me they read a paper as a primary source for hard news, sport, entertainment or celebrity gossip.
Slowly that has altered. Last year specifically, for instance, I saw two new trends.
One was the use of mobile apps to access online or social media.
And secondly (and worryingly in my opinion) was an automatic acceptance that it was bone fide fact if it ‘was on the net.’
There didn’t seem to be any discrimination between different sites for sourcing content. Google News and aggregators such as AOL were simply adequate, it was felt, without scrambling for a specific site.
This autumn term, of the 27 in my first year business communications module, only 3 students read a paper as a primary source. The Telegraph, and Daily Mail were mentioned. One student said The Mail felt ‘comfortable’ as his parents read it at home (rather touching, I felt). The former was mentioned because it had a heavy volume of news and sport.
Radio had a small profile. Four of the group went to the wireless first. Radio One, Capital and Radio 4 were cited as sources.
Three out of 27 (11%) used tv as a primary source- stations mentioned were Sky and BBC. No one mentioned ITN nor local stations.
Online access, is, of course, overpowering. All students used it. In this student intake, more than half (51%/14 out of 27) mentioned it as a primary source. They went for the BBC, The Daily Mail web pages or the aggregators. The overseas students, from the Baltic countries or The Far East, tapped into either BBC online (‘because it gives you an excellent news service’) or their own country’s newspaper sites.
Five students said they went to social media first: either Facebook or Twitter because ‘it was fast.’ One said she used Twitter and found out about the deaths of Amy Winehouse and Steve Jobs as the stories were trending. She then followed it up with online material. Another said Facebook was the primary source because ‘news is what my friends tell me.’
Three of the Facebook crowd said they were tasting the news apps linked with the site. These headline what friends are reading. Two used The Guardian/Facebook app and one used the newly launched Independent app.
One young women used online business reports as a secondary source after BBC online news. Another read her Home Counties local paper as a subsidiary source. No one used Birmingham media as a primary source..
The overall trend, in this off- the-cuff profile, is that this year’s first year students are turning their backs en masse to the printed and broadcast word..
Tellingly, I asked a small seminar of 13 about Gary Speed’s recent death and where they learned about it first. Nine grabbed it from social media first- 7 from Facebook and 2 from Twitter. The others found out from a paper (The Metro), an internet news aggregator , one from tv and one from general word of mouth.
As one student told me: ‘Online is easier.’
Print and broadcast industries beware. The future speaks.
Richard Lutz teaches at the University of Birmingham Business School