As Editors-in-Chief of The Johns Hopkins News-Letter, one of our roles is to serve as the public face of the paper, which means we can often be found around campus delivering print papers, at tabling events or simply repping our News-Letter tote bags or crewnecks. It never fails to astound us when students ask, “We have a school newspaper?”
We often chalk this up to the disconnect lingering on campus after the pandemic and our years of remote learning, or the student body’s temporary time here, which may leave them feeling little need to tap into the Hopkins or Baltimore community.
However, this is a symptom of a larger trend in society: The majority of younger generations are often out of touch with current events. In one study, over one-fifth of young Americans reported not receiving the news daily. Age was the largest determinant of knowledge about political news in another study, with those between 50 and 70 years old being the most knowledgeable and the young being among the least informed.
Among those who do regularly consume the news, the topics most followed by young adults vary greatly. The top subjects included celebrities, music, entertainment, and food and cooking. Trailing behind these include political news, international affairs, the environment and health.
We recognize that the news often isn’t pleasant, and the stressors of today’s world can make it difficult to want to be informed — issues like climate change, gun violence, the pandemic and political extremism are complex and frightening. They can leave one feeling apathetic or even hopeless.
News fatigue isn’t unique to young adults — they display levels consistent with other age groups — but their lack of engagement is especially problematic. Of those young adults who are attentive to the news, the majority report not enjoying the news or even feeling worse the more they consume.
Additionally, it is important to look at where people get their news. One in five Americans reported getting their political news from social media. However, compared to those who receive their news directly from news websites, this cohort is less likely to be thoroughly educated and engaged on political topics and more likely to encounter fake news.
With eye-catching headlines on the latest celebrity gossip or fashion trends filling our feeds, it is easy to follow up on the latest news in the entertainment industry — all major media outlets are guaranteed to have an “Entertainment” section — but political, economic or health news are not necessarily available on every news source. Take a look at the Instagram numbers, for example. While E! News, an entertainment network, has 22 million followers, CNN only has 19 million followers, and NBC News only has 3.6 million.
Neil Postman outlined this trend in his 1985 book Amusing Ourselves to Death, in which he argued that the dissemination of news was becoming more superficial with the need to entertain the public to get a message across. We have definitely seen this proven true today. From Saturday Night Live’s “Weekend Update” to the various major news outlets now on TikTok, an element of entertainment always seems necessary to secure public engagement.
We acknowledge that the internet has proven beneficial in increasing the accessibility to news, but it has simultaneously led to a greater need to fact-check and remain hypervigilant against misinformation. Now, almost anyone can “educate” or “inform” the public on their platform, but whether their content is factually accurate persists as a problem. In fact, 74% of social media users report having encountered fake news online. Unfortunately, data has shown that adults under 30 years old are almost nearly as likely to trust information found on social media sites as they are to trust news outlets.
As a result, the concept of digital literacy has risen to the public consciousness in recent years, with researchers looking for ways to integrate this into education and training programs to combat fake news. Some countries have also started making media literacy classes mandatory in secondary education and are offering more educational resources for their youth.
Young people are a crucial demographic. Our generation has the potential to shape the future we will live in, and, in order to do that, we must be informed. Setting aside time to read the news or listen to an informative podcast is an easy way to use your time effectively and engage with society.
There are simple ways to set good media habits and develop a better sense of media literacy. Consume multiple sources of information, do your research and always be discerning. Set healthy boundaries for your news consumption — even though there is an infinite amount of knowledge out there, you are only one person. Take breaks when things get overwhelming.
Making the effort is the first step to being better informed and engaged with society. We live in a world where all the information we could ever want to learn is literally at our fingertips — so pick up your phone, or maybe even a print paper, and get a grip on the news that matters.
Molly Gahagen is a junior from Key Largo, Fla. majoring in International Studies and Political Science. She is an Editor-in-Chief for The News-Letter.
Michelle Limpe is a senior from the Philippines studying Chemistry and Public Health. She is an Editor-in-Chief for The News-Letter.