Examining the News
With the pervasiveness of news in our lives, it is
important to take a look at how news affects our lives.
We have come a long way from the days when the
nightly news was reported at 6 p.m. on the "Big 3"
We have gone from the 24-hour news of CNN to
being able to access news whenever we want. We have
access to news from a variety of 24-hour cable news
channels to "news when you want it" from the
Internet to instant news on one’s PDA device. Instant
news is just part of our lives.
Examining the news is relevant to media literacy,
not only because of our access to it but because so
many elements, resources and dollars go toward
supporting the news. The news also directly impacts
our opinions about others’ behavior, celebrity and
relevance to our day-to-day activities.
American Academy of Pediatrics Studies, 1999-2001
- 65% of kids ages 8-18 have television sets
in their bedrooms.
- By the time an average U.S. citizen reaches
age 70, they will have spent seven to ten
years watching television.
- By age 18, the average U.S. child's TV viewing
has included 16,000 simulated murders,
and over 200,000 other acts of violence.
- Excessive TV viewing has been linked to obesity
and may lead to decreased school achievement,
poor body image, increased aggression
and increased risk of substance abuse.
- Out of 15,000 references to sex on TV
during a 2001 media study, only 170
mentioned contraception, abstinence, or
Source: Pew Research Center, 1999
- Only 33% of Americans ages 18-29 say they
enjoy keeping up with the news a lot.
- Three-quarters of youth ages 18-24 who
watch TV channel surf during the news.
- 57% of Americans regularly watch network
- 40% of Americans regularly watch cable news.
- 46% of Americans follow national news only
when something major is happening.
- 63% of Americans follow international news
only when something major is happening.
- Youth who access the news from the Internet
at least once a week more than tripled in
the past two years going from 11 to 36
million news users.
Young People's Interest in the News
Research indicates that students get most of their
political information from watching David Letterman, Jay
Leno, The Daily Show and MTV and from surfing the Web.
As recent elections reveal, candidates gain appeal
by reaching out to youth through their favored media
outlets. Remember when former president Bill Clinton
made his case to youth on MTV as part of their "Rock
the Vote" campaign? And in 2003, California Governor
Arnold Schwarzenegger announced his gubernatorial
candidacy on Leno's show.
In the 2004 campaign, Howard Dean followed
recently by John Kerry reached out through his Web
site to a large base of youth to get them interested in
the issues of his campaign and to motivate them to
register to vote in elections for the first time.
From online chats, Instant Messaging, blog writing
(publishing individual opinions on a variety of topics
directly to the Internet) and market research, candidates
know exactly how to find young people on
the Internet who are engaged in news and current
Reaching out to youth through the media and
using "hipper" methods to attract youth to politics and
advertising messages bears close scrutiny in regard to
how they react to the media they see and hear.
The Importance of Being Informed
The free reporting on the activities of government
and community leaders and the events of civic life is
one of the major underpinnings of our democracy
one that our founding fathers felt very strongly about.
Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a
government without newspapers, or newspapers without a
government, I should not hesitate to prefer the latter.
— Thomas Jefferson
Having informed citizens is as important today
as it was in Thomas Jefferson’s day. With all the
sources of news and information at our disposal, how
informed are young people?
A recent survey by the National Constitution
Center compared teens' knowledge of American history
to their knowledge of pop culture. The percentages
on the next chart indicate the number of survey
participants who could give the correct answers.
Source: National Constitution Center
- Who is the chief justice of the United States?
(William Rehnquist) 2.2%
- What are the first three letters after "http"
of almost every Web site address?
- What is the name of the town where
Abraham Lincoln lived for most of his adult
life and that he represented when in
Congress? (Springfield) 12.2%
- What is the name of the town where Bart
Simpson lives? (Springfield) 74.3%
This poll illustrates that when teens feel something
is interesting and relevant to their lives, they are open
and ready to learn.
The stories behind our country's history are interesting
and relevant, but the above findings illustrate
that the media can make a more powerful impact on
young people's lives than does the important and
historical knowledge about our country. It is our job as
adults to present these facts to youth in an interesting
way, and there is still work to be done in order for
print and electronic news to be effective.