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Negative news prompts less readership

Daniel Johnson, Beaumont freshman, reads a copy of the University Press in the lobby of Gentry Hall, Sunday. UP photo by Caden Moran
Daniel Johnson, Beaumont freshman, reads a copy of the University Press in the lobby of Gentry Hall, Sunday. UP photo by Caden Moran

According to a 2016 study done by the Pew Research Center, younger generations viewed news media in a more negative light than the five previous years.

“I think the news focuses on everything that’s wrong, which is something we need to hear, but sometimes I feel like we should discuss something going on that’s good instead of all negative,” Mason Mathews, Lumberton senior, said. “People watch it when they first wake up in the morning, and I don’t want to start my day off paranoid, anxious or depressed because I’m hearing all these things that are happening that are bad.” 

Even corporate communications senior Amari Vann said although she reads the news, it can be overwhelming.

“We have this era of fake news so usually (students) don’t know where to get news from,” she said. “Sometimes we have bit clips where we only see little bits, but there’s so much news coming at them at once that they don’t know where to start. I have the internet, I have the radio, I have television. I have all this to get this one answer and it’s so much information for one subject.”

Michael Saar, interim instruction assessment coordinator for the library, said the challenge for many people, regardless of age, is how to determine what a legitimate news source is.

“So, what is ABC News’ website, is it They (people who intentionally misrepresent fact) can replicate the look of that site, have a fake story that comes from, and to someone who's not really paying attention, you think you're on ABC News's website and you're reading this outrageous story,” he said.

According to a study done by the Pew Research Center in 2017, 67 percent of Americans say they get their news from social media.

“I get a lot (of news) from social media,” Mathews said. “It can be very biased, too, but if you carefully read everything, not just one side of it, you can develop your own opinion based on facts.”

Ken Ward, assistant professor of communications and media, explained how getting news from social media can backfire.

“If something is outside of our field of vision, we don't have to interact with it,” he said. “As a result, we stick with what we know, meaning that issues that are affecting others either don't appear in our feed or comes from sources that serve our own biases. As a result, our knowledge of the world becomes narrower and narrower.”

Saar said what people see on social media platforms has a lot to do with algorithms used by Facebook and Twitter, for example.

“It is difficult to separate out what is accurate from what isn't because almost all the sites present themselves as very accurate and reliable and they don't necessarily have signs,” he said. “That's one factor.

“Another reason is that information is very easy to share, especially when you get in closed environments like Facebook or Twitter. Within those environments, their algorithms lend to the creation of filter bubbles and echo chambers where, if we are friends on there and we have similar political or ideological perspectives, we're going to share that information. We won't really question it because it already aligns with how we view that material.”

Ward said news intake is often based on “topical communities.”

“We've fractured away from a local community into topical communities,” he said. “We now center ourselves around ideas rather than around a place and that's not an entirely bad thing, but the problem is that the ideas that we center around are typically basic concepts like politics, or cars, or drug culture and as a result, geography-based culture is just the people sitting in the same room as you.

“We're not as centrally concerned with that group and that is what most of these news publications are centered around.”

In 2016, Pew Research Center published a survey about civic engagement and news habits only to find that the people who were the most active in the community were the ones that watched the local news.

“Nothing is more important than your community,” Ward said. “We obsess over national issues because we can collectively obsess over them and because it’s profitable for national news publications to provide that information, but when we're talking about the things that actually affect our day-to-day lives and the people that we interact with — the people that we care about — those are local issues.

“Those are community issues. And when we live in a community like this one, unless we are really focusing on improving our community and trying to find ways to interact in a meaningful way with the people around us, our community stagnates and we all suffer as a result.”

Ward said the health of a community is expressed through its social capital and that this can be distorted through our online communities.

“Social capital is the idea that the relationships you have with certain communities is a real asset,” he said. “The more organizations that people are part of and the more they get out into the community they live in and interact with different groups, the more opportunities they have to engage with a diverse set of people and ideas.

“It's a certain kind of wealth that you get because you get better information and you learn about more opportunities. You can rely on people to watch your back because you're watching their back. There's this idea of assumed reciprocity.” 

Ward said that turning on Netflix or some other digital community dilutes social capital. Instead, social capital is being isolated and centered in the home, relationships with immediate family or roommates, instead of this larger group. 

Saar said there are specific things people can do when reading news. 

“What you believe is really important to pay attention to when reading the news, too,” Saar said. “I would look for who's providing the information. It depends on the context, so if I'm going back to look at a study, I'm looking at what credentials the authors have.

“For journalistic stories, unless the journalist is really well-known, the name probably won't help much in that case. I might investigate the publication. What kind of reputation do they have? Are they coming from a liberal bias? Are they more factual reporting or are they more analytical or are they just opinion pieces? You can look at the language presented within a story to help get a sense of any potential biases that exist.

“I always look for what I call ‘emotionally-charged rhetoric.’ So, anything you read it seems to compel an emotional response from you. It could be really happy. It could be really upsetting. So, for example, something like ‘What the doctors won't tell you about something- something will infuriate you,’ and you read that all the doctors are hiding stuff from you and you’re upset. It gets an emotional response out of you. It tells me then that it's at least trying to persuade you to feel a certain way about the topic.”

Saar adds that people should have accountability for what they share.

“Most importantly I would say to share responsibly,” he said. “Don't get just as angry as that headline in your Facebook feed might get you, if you feel you really got to share it. Please read the story before you share it so that you know what it's saying and correspond to that.

Category: Features