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In today’s media-saturated society, we as users of modern technology are bombarded with information constantly. Social media has become a dominant source of information for many young people in Australia and may have even surpassed traditional news channels as a source for current affairs. Facebook is the flagship social network and as such has unrivalled utility to journalists as it allows them to reach a larger audience directly and immediately. With the ability to share and repost stories around the world, easily and instantly, most people possess the means to be an active consumer and participant in news media. It is also a by-product of our constant fixation to mobile devices and social media, that we as consumers are passive or reluctant members of a news readership, many people who skim their Facebook timeline inevitable come across, at the very least, headline articles which are subliminally taken in. News companies have evolved with the changing times and assimilated these new technologies into the production process to remain current and appeal to their readers, especially the younger members of their audience.
In Australia the majority of young adults are active on some form of social media and the most popular social network today is Facebook. For the purposes of this research ‘young adult’ is defined as aged 18-25. There has also been a decline in engagement with traditional news media amongst the same demographic, many young Australians don’t buy newspapers or even watch TV news. Most of the exposure to the news for this group of people is online, either on a computer screen or on a mobile device. The purpose of this research is to determine whether Australian young adults who are active on Facebook are more likely to engage with the news. Furthermore it will assess whether this form of interaction with news media is as effective at delivering information as traditional methods. It is important to distinguish between reading the headline of a news story and actually reading a full article and understanding it. A common criticism of millennials is their short attention spans and consequential decline in education and social awareness.
This study will utilise three methods of research; a survey questioning participant’s engagement with news media via Facebook applications. Following that an in-depth interview will be conducted with respondents to the survey. Finally a textual analysis will be performed on the content of participant-selected news stories to assess whether they are tailored for a specific online audience. The validity of this research lies in its assessment of the social awareness of young adults in Australia. An indicator of social and cultural awareness is engagement and understanding of current events, and for the most part news media is the provider of this information. Previous studies have observed that “seeking information via social network sites is a significant predictor of people’s civic and political participatory behaviors” (Gil de Zúñiga, 2012). Social networking has incredible potential for education and is being used to propagate information by news groups, this research will attempt to answer whether or not this information is being received.
Recent studies have shown that users of social networks in Australia, especially young adults, have reached unprecedented proportions prior to the new media revolution. A social media report conducted by Sensis in 2015 showed that 49% of Australians accessed social media everyday, with this number jumping to 79% for Australian aged 18-29. The social network visited most often, by a vast majority, is Facebook with 97% of social network users aged 18-29 having an active Facebook account (Ravensdale and Wong, 2015). Studies of this kind have found a constant increase in social media usage for all demographics over time, and young adults are consistently the largest group of active social networkers. Though there are criticisms of this increase in online social activity, a disconnect from the ’real-world’ and the negative impact on social development is often attributed to new media use. There are however irrefutably positive aspects to the relatively recent technological revolution. Global interconnectivity and dissemination of information from trusted sources has been made possible by companies including Facebook. Studies have shown that people who are directed to news stories by family members, and people they trust are more likely to trust the source of the information and show interest in the report. The ever-increasing obsession with Facebook and subscription to social media has affected both the way news groups send information and audiences receive information.
This trend has had a tangible effect on the way news companies promote and distribute their information, subsequent to the spike in online activity, most major news corporations have created a social media presence and cater to their readers’ preferred method of information consumption. This is true universally as observed by Alfred Hermida, “news organizations are rushing into social media, viewing services like Facebook and Twitter as opportunities to market and distribute content” (Hermida et al, 2012). There is conclusive statistical data which proves that social media engagement has risen, almost to the point of total market domination amongst young adults with Facebook. In response to this, major news groups have digitised their content and manufactured a social media presence in order to remain current and especially to appeal to younger audiences who make up the majority of social media users, and the minority of their traditional audience. This adaptation to consumer trends in the news world is what Tandoc refers to as “the increasing influence exerted by the audience—perceived to be the key for journalism’s survival” (Tandoc and Vos, 2015).
There have been limited studies which investigate what percentage of social media users receive the majority of their news from applications such as Facebook. One study found that “two-fifths of social networking users said they receive news from people they follow on services like Facebook, while a fifth get news from news organizations and individual journalists they follow” (Hermida et al, 2012). There is a distinction to be made between those who directly access digital versions of newspapers and those who discover news from social networks which provide links to online articles. A study into the digitisation of newspapers and the percentage of their online readership found that for most newspapers in Australia, at least half of their readers accessed articles online, “well over half of each metro masthead’s total audience now access it via website or app, ranging from 54% of the Newcastle Herald’s to 85% of the Sydney Morning Herald’s” (Levine, 2016). What isn’t clear is whether young adults in Australia, the 97% of regular Facebook users, are exposed to, and engage with the news more as a result of their access to social networks.
The unfettered access to social networks allows young Australians to not only passively receive news information but actively seek it out. This has been observed in several cases, but not enough to conclude that social media usage leads to an increase in engagement with current affairs. A study conducted by the International Journal of Computer Science and Information Technology found that activity on applications such as Facebook did provide a means to finding news stories, “social networking sites play a major role on news seeking process. 78% of social web users seek news via these platforms” (Beheshti-Kashi and Baharak, 2013). The study did not however demonstrate that social media was not just the most convenient method of news connectivity. There are clearly questions concerning to what extent social media affects news exposure and interaction which are yet to be answered.
This research will involved three data collection methods, all information collected will be done so according to research ethics guidelines and only be used for class purposes. Full details of participants will remain anonymous and the right to withdraw from the study will remain an option throughout.
The first research method will be a survey to obtain a measure of the social media usage of young adults in Australia and to what extent they receive their news from Facebook, the most significant social network to date. The survey will be distributed online to a sample size of approximately twenty people and will contain five to ten questions. See appendix A for a sample survey quiz.
The second research method will be a follow up to the survey in the form of a more in-depth interview with respondents to the survey. The interview will last approximately ten minutes and will attempt to gain a further understanding of the social media habits of interviewees, particularly how they come across news media on social networks, whether it is deliberately sought out or a part of being interconnected to so many people in a cybersphere. See appendix B for sample interview questions.
The final research method will be textual analysis of news stories chosen by the participants of this study. They will be analysed to determine whether digital news stories have any similarly tailored aspects which are designed to appeal to an online market. The brevity of a news story for instance would be more likely to appeal to a busy young adult skimming through their Facebook timeline.
Beheshti-Kashi, S., and Baharak Makki. 2013. “Social media news: Motivation, purpose and usage.” International Journal of Computer Science & Information Technology 5 (2): 97-105
Gil de Zúñiga, Homero. 2012. Social media use for news and individuals’ social capital, civic engagement and political participation. Journal of Computer‐Mediated Communication 17 (3): 319-36.
Hermida, A., Fred Fletcher, Darryl Korell, and Donna Logan. 2012. “SHARE, LIKE, RECOMMEND: Decoding the social media news consumer”. Journalism Studies 13 (5-6): 815-10.
Levine, M. 2016. “Roy Morgan Newspaper Print Readership and Cross-Platform Audiences for June 2016.” Roy Morgan Research.
Ravensdale, E., and Rob Wong. 2015. “Sensis Social Media Report.” Sensis PTY LTD. Melbourne.
Tandoc Jr, Edson C., and Tim P. Vos. 2015. “The journalist is marketing the news: Social media in the gatekeeping process.” Journalism Practice: 1-17.