Across the great divide: How today's college students engage with news

  • Alison J Head Director of Project Information Literacy, a Senior Researcher at the metaLAB at Harvard, and a Visiting Scholar at Harvard Graduate School of Education.l
  • Erica DeFrain
  • Barbara Fister
  • Margy MacMillan
Keywords: news consumption, news engagement, media literacy, news literacy, information literacy, civic engagement, post-truth, college students

Abstract

This paper reports results from a mixed-methods study about how college students engage with news when questions of credibility and “fake news” abound in the U.S. Findings are based on 5,844 online survey responses, one open-ended survey question (N=1,252), and 37 follow-up telephone interviews with students enrolled at 11 U.S. colleges and universities. More than two-thirds of respondents had received news from at least five pathways to news during the previous week; often their news came from discussions with peers, posts on social media platforms, online newspaper sites, discussions with professors, or news feeds. The classroom was an influential incubator for news habits; discussions of news provided relevant connections to curricular content as well as guidance for navigating a complex and crowded online media landscape. Respondents majoring in the arts and humanities, social sciences, and business administration were far more likely to get news from their professors than were students in computer science or engineering. The interplay between unmediated and mediated pathways to news underscored the value of the socialness of news; discussions with peers, parents, and professors helped students identify which stories they might follow and trust. Opportunities and strategies are identified for preparing students to gather and evaluate credible news sources, first as students and then as lifelong learners, based on the assumption that instructors discussing news in class can demonstrate intentionally, or unintentionally, that familiarity with news is a social practice and a form of civic engagement.

Author Biographies

Alison J Head, Director of Project Information Literacy, a Senior Researcher at the metaLAB at Harvard, and a Visiting Scholar at Harvard Graduate School of Education.l
Alison J. Head, Ph.D. is the founder and director of Project Information Literacy, a public benefit nonprofit research institute that studies college students and their information practices in the digital age. Head is the Lead Researcher for PIL, a Senior Researcher at the metaLAB at Harvard, and a Visiting Scholar at Harvard Graduate School of Education.
Erica DeFrain

PIL researcher and an Assistant Professor and Social Sciences Librarian at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Barbara Fister

Scholar-in-Residence at PIL and Professor Emerita at Gustavus Adolphus College in Minnesota.

Margy MacMillan

Senior Researcher at PIL and Professor Emerita at Mount Royal University in Calgary.

Published
2019-08-01
How to Cite
Head, A. J., DeFrain, E., Fister, B., & MacMillan, M. (2019). Across the great divide: How today’s college students engage with news. First Monday, 24(8). https://doi.org/10.5210/fm.v24i8.10166