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How young people use media: Youth DNA study measures trends

Young people perceive traditional media as more accurate, trustworthy and reliable than new media, but many get most of their news and information from another source entirely - family and friends.

That is one of the key responses from 10 innovative focus groups of young people in 10 countries that is part of a major research project on how young people get their news.

The goal of the research was to have young people from around the world confirm or challenge hypotheses regarding their media usage habits and attitudes. The insights will be used to guide the next phase of Youth Media DNA, a quantitative study in which 1,000 youths between 15 and 29 years-old will be surveyed in every country that participates in the study.

"Most participants still value more traditional media sources and formats, because they are perceived as being more accurate, reliable and trustworthy," said Robert Barnard, founder and partner of the Canada-based research consultancy D-code, which is conducting the research for the World Association of Newspapers.

At the same time, however, "many participants in this phase listed discussion with friends' as a top source for news and information, sometimes ranking higher than TV or newspapers. In particular, social networks appear to be key in spreading entertainment news for most young people."

"Although information gathered from family and friends may not be accurate, young people appear to trust family and friends much more than media sources," said Barnard, who added that the reasons for this phenomenon will be the subject of the next phase of research.

Implications for future news delivery

The research released today, during a seminar on the eve of the World Newspaper Congress and World Editors Forum in Cape Town, South Africa
(WAN Congress, Cape Town ), is a preliminary phase in a major WAN research project called Youth Media DNA to help newspaper companies develop better strategies for reaching young readers. The study is part of the WAN Young Reader Development Project, supported by Norske Skog, the Norway-based international paper manufacturer.

D-Code recruited 100 young people, 15 to 24 years old, in Colombia, Japan, the Philippines, Lebanon, Serbia, Spain, Sweden, United States and United Kingdom, to document their media habits and discuss their attitudes towards news and newspaper readership. This was done through one-on-one long interviews, on-line discussions, and media diaries.

While the exploratory phase was not designed to draw conclusions about young readers globally, it is enough to explore participant reactions to the hypotheses, which have implications for future news delivery and consumption and can help newspapers better understand how to reach young people. The hypotheses include:

* Are young people are getting news and information from many media sources? "Many participants said that they feel uncomfortable trusting a single authoritative source - even among those that they rely upon on a regular basis," the report said. The use of multiple sources and formats is true not only for the formats they use, but also for the news brands they are loyal to."

* Is interest in 'passive' forms of media (radio, TV, etc.) waning as young people want to interact with - and contribute content to - news media? "Despite the stated preferences for the internet as a news and information source, and the growing interest in personal devices that facilitate citizen journalism, most participants still value more traditional media sources and formats, because they are perceived as being more accurate, reliable and trustworthy," the report said.

* Are young people spending less time with traditional media and more with new media? "Young participants said that usage of new media (i.e., computers, mobile phones, the internet, and MP3 players) is increasingly taking up time participants would have spent with traditional media, though this time is obviously restricted in countries where the digital divide remains a strong barrier," the report said. "Despite this, many participants say they would like to spend more time with newspapers and other traditional sources of information. Contrary to stereotype, many young participants remained respectful of traditional information sources and few dismiss them as obsolete."

* Is the biggest competition for news and information in the future the young people themselves and their own social networks? "Feedback from participants in this phase listed 'discussion with friends' as a top source for news and information, sometimes ranking higher than TV or newspapers," the report said. "In particular, social networks appear to be key in spreading entertainment news for most young people. In future research, it will be interesting to probe deeper about the nature of how news and information are shared through social networks. Although information gathered from family and friends may not be accurate, young people appear to trust family and friends much more than media sources. Why does this appear to be the case? What topics are more appropriate for this kind of relationship?"

* Are free newspapers driving curiosity in news and inspiring youth to dig deeper? "This issue appears to be key to the development of future strategies on youth newspaper readership," the report said. "Free commuter newspapers are common to most young participants around the world and the consensus is that they drive curiosity in news and information.

Overall, most participants said they read paid newspapers more frequently than free newspapers. Many respondents said that free commuter newspapers are well-suited for travel to and from school and work, while paid newspapers are more likely to be read at home."


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