To get informed, have young people abandoned the traditional media?


It is common to read that young people are no longer concerned with the news, that they are abandoning traditional media to focus on content disseminated by digital social networks . In these declarations, often in the form of lamentation, several approaches are confused. Not reading the paper press and not listening to the radio does not mean neglecting the news.

Only, it is true that the daily press and magazine is confronted with a problem of generational renewal which suggests that a real challenge is to be met in the decades to come to relay its aging readership . A new relationship with the press is being established, through digital and more information-based.

Access to information through social networks

Contrary to popular belief, the results of quantitative and qualitative surveys have for several years confirmed young people’s interest in current affairs, and this trend has strengthened since the pandemic. When looking for information, a quarter to a third of 18-25 year olds have the reflex to turn to the digital sites of national press newspapers, which they consider to be reliable sources.

But while previous generations developed preferences for this or that title, they consult one or the other relatively indifferently. When they are questioned, high school and university students struggle to situate the editorial lines of the daily newspapers or their sensitivity on the political spectrum. What interests them is journalistic information, more than whether it comes from Le Monde , Liberation or Le Figaro . They do not consult a daily for its positioning but for the guarantee of quality that it represents. Thus, the major newspapers function globally as reference “brands”.

Before the age of 18, it is rather television news and continuous news channels that are watched and continue to be judged as reliable sources. On the other hand, the program schedule, with the “high mass” at 8 p.m., no longer really makes sense to them, unless family traditions perpetuate family dinners in front of the news.

For adolescents, as for young adults, the biggest split with previous generations lies in the digital uses of information. Overwhelmingly, it is the digital social networks that serve as their gateway to the news, in particular YouTube, Instagram and Twitter, but also Spotify and TikTok to a lesser extent.

The brief forms that are in use on these networks echo the relationship that young people themselves have with writing, through text messages and emojis . The presentation of messages in images is appreciated, as is the possibility of sending information to contacts, possibly with their own comments, which makes it possible to adopt a more active posture in the face of information.

News feeds and the risks of infobesity

While seniors remain very attached to the paper press, young people often find it difficult to read, sometimes obscure and expensive. Above all, going to the newsstand presupposes a voluntary approach, the usefulness of which they do not necessarily see since they have become accustomed to obtaining news directly on their smartphone, without any solicitation on their part, except for have enabled notifications on their phone once and for all.

Every morning, they are thus alerted to the main news: “When I look at my smartphone, I immediately have access to the essential important information and this refers me to the major newspapers” explains Charlotte, 16, in an ongoing survey of high school and college students in the Grand Est region. If the subject interests her, all she has to do is click.

This way of obtaining information has made editorial logic particularly vague. Interest is aroused by the news, regardless in the eyes of the young Internet user to which newspaper or pure news player the smartphone algorithm directs him.

In the end, the risk would be rather that of “infobesity” than of informational anaemia. Being continuously informed by social networks can cause anxiety in the face of the disorders of the world. We could speak of “informational stress”, caused by the fact of being continuously informed. This leaves no breath and can even become guilt-inducing for those who wish to avoid it. Thus, the reading time represented by reading a paper newspaper has been shattered. It has been replaced by a logic of clicks and rebounds that is much more time-consuming, and without editorial hierarchy.

When it comes to social networks, this can also give pride of place to “fake news” and disinformation since the resumption and virality of the information exchanged is facilitated, regardless of its value and degree of reliability.

The role of information literacy

Should we conclude that adults no longer have a place in the relationship that young people have with the news? When newspapers and magazines are bought by parents and left around the house, children tend to leaf through them. Maxence (20), a young student, reads the local newspaper bought by his mother, as does Amel (19): “Dad leaves L’Est éclair on the living room table , which makes me want to read it at end”. Chloé (19), for her part, has lunch with her grandfather every lunchtime and takes the opportunity to read the regional newspaper.

The opinion of adults, and in particular of teachers, counts. Evidenced by Pauline (17 years old): “I chose to receive news from Le Figaro on my phone because it was a teacher who advised us”. The media and information literacy sessions in class are bearing fruit and sensitizing young people to reading the press and current events. European countries are gradually becoming aware of its importance, some having for example supported the European MEDEAnet program promoting learning about digital and audiovisual media.

In the same way, producing high school and student newspapers arouses a taste for the press and journalistic information, and makes it possible to better understand the ethical requirements of the profession. Thus, Lucie (20 years old) remembers the EMI sessions in college that introduced her to jobs related to journalism.

Finally, it is up to journalists and the traditional media to think more about young people, by giving them a voice, by dealing with subjects they feel close to: ecology, gender issues, parity… The participation of journalists in the week of the press at school is also a means of making the press and the diversity of the media offer better known, its importance in reviving democracy.

Author Bio: Laurence Corroy is a University Professor at the University of Lorraine