Monday, February 27, 2012

Where and How do College Students Get their News?

Essay: Where and How do College Students Get their News?

Students are arguably one of the most influential demographics in America today and have historically served as a force for change (Wireless News, 2008). With 13.6 million potential voters attending American colleges this year and a notable consumer power of $237 billion (Marketing Weekly News, 2008), this cross-segmented group and the ways its participants design their world perception is a source of great interest from several perspectives.

First, as current customers and voters the content of the media they consume affects their present decisions. Second, these students are expected for higher social mobilization than those who do not attend, and therefore their future spending and social influence would probably develop with time. The same holds true for other behavioural aspects, such as social attitudes, tastes and critical thinking about the world. 
This paper examines news consumption patterns of college students and tries to assess the influence of the news media they consume on the development of their preferences and values. The underlying idea is quite simple: by recognising the means and the methods students use to receive local, national and international information, it is possible for various scholars to evaluate the effectiveness of massages, improve advertising efficiency, etc.

It is clear, though, that news is not the only type of media we consume. Entertainment, social networks and E-learning are examples for important non-news types of media that plays a role in influencing its market. This research, however, is limited to news media at its various forms.

My main argument is that students have special characteristics that distinguish them from the general public, also in news consumption. In addition, students differ between themselves; as I discuss later, business students, for example, have different fields of interest and therefore consume different media of the same media differently (e.g., multitasking while watching TV). These differences must be defined, evaluated and implemented for both interest groups and the students themselves as critical thinkers.    

Discussion of Relevant Literature 
There is a strong link in the United States between education and political and civic participation (Lopez & Brown, 2006). Lopez & Brown (2006) have also reported opposite relations between college experience and TV news exposure; the more educated a person is, the less frequent he is exposed to TV news, although newspapers consumption does not differ materially, ranging around 26%. However, the dark side of their findings is that too many college students, perhaps the building block of tomorrow’s economy, are not exposed to news on a daily basis. In other words, they do not know what is going on around them. 

Nevertheless, some other findings, such as in Geronimo & McKnight (1999), do find TV as the primary source of information and give little weight to more “professional” or “educational” news sources such as Lexis-Nexis. Blaszczynski and James (2002) have also found TV as the primary source of news, but points out that more than one-third of students in their sample were getting their news online, a similar proportion for newspaper and radio combined. Not surprisingly, they have also found a greater exposure to media and news at all platform (television, newspapers, magazines, radio and internet) among students than the general public, although their media preferences (i.e., which platform they use) is quite parallel to the general public.      

So, who is the average American college student? As often happens in social sciences, it seems that the outcome of two studies will usually be three different opinions. Moreover, the advertising industry gives great incentives to the media to concentrate on its dynamic efficiency. The result is a high level on innovation in a fast-changing sector, which often makes it hard for scholars to measure its effectiveness, in particular when college students cannot be segmented as one body. News consumption patterns also vary as a response to significant events. Surveying accounting students’ news consumption, Blaszczynski and James (2002) have found an overwhelming 57% increase in these students’ interest in international news.

Although all my sources indicate that TV is still the leading source of news, its effectiveness in terms of conveying information is rather low. As a thorough investigation of media advertising suggests, 83% of college student a busy doing something else, or multitasking, while watching TV; 45% of students access the Internet (vs. 33% in 2002), 37% do homework (vs. 28%) and 36% talk on the phone while watching (Ebenkamp, 2005).

As mentioned earlier, news is being delivered today in rather innovative ways. The importance of online sources cannot be overestimated. In addition to almost infinite number of news websites, from international to local, sophisticated online tools have emerged, some of them are specifically designed for students and their fields of interest, which includes campus news and professor ratings. mtvU, for example, is a leading online college network that combines news at all levels, local events and entertainment. Launching first on 25 of America’s biggest campuses (Marketing Business Weekly, 2008), mtvU will presumably become a major supplier of news to strong students from major universities.   

Alternative sources are also rising. Using large LCD screens in high-traffic campus locations, HotNewz.TV provide news to nearly 30% of American students in more than 250 locations (Entertainment News Weekly, 2008).

Methodological Issues and Directions for the Future Research
This study intended to shed some light on the ways college students can generally receive their news. Due to its original scope, covering general preferences of more than 13 million Americans, a general approach was taken. Rather than presenting sound quantitative data, which is not only irrelevant to this population but also unattainable, I tried to build a portal to the matter, suggesting room for further evaluation of its specific elements.

First, empirical data is needed in regard to specific segments of this population. Segmenting them geographically is a good start, but it would be advisable to examine news preferences according to faculties, age groups, immigration background and other demographic characteristics.

Second, particular influences must be considered. As suggested by Ebenkamp (2005), it is highly possible that TV is a popular platform, but gives very little information due to students’ tendency to multitask. Another important factor is the means to increase students’ news exposure, which many will find it as too low for young scholars.

Third and most important, the means of delivery are a key issue. Attention span is decreasing, and journalists’ jobs today are bringing more information in less time. I am not so sure that newspapers should fill their pages with pictures, rather than summarize the news for the young reader, whose attention is limited and destructed by the very same platforms that should deliver news to him. 

Summary, Implications and Discussion
The consumer is a fast learner. Some would say the news penetration among adult population is rather low and by that a shallow society is being created in contemporary America. When the consumer’s preferences are still in development, as in the case of college students, it is compulsory to accurately measure and handle their exposure and critical evaluation of media and news, including, but not limited to, news which is directly relevant to their future profession. I have no doubt that some o this responsibility falls to the educational institutions’ hands, which take a major role in this learning process.

Further research should be much more specific in the future. Very little body of current research on the matter exists at the moment. Most of the research deals with advertisement, whereas it seems that too little interest is given for building a updated student in contemporary American colleges.      

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