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Digital Natives, though Disengaged, not as Digital as We Think

Research intern Kate Pape at NPR dug into some data from GfK MRI and was surprised to find that newspaper readership amongst young people is higher than expected—more than half of adults aged 18-24 read a newspaper (in paper form) one to 14 times a month. She wrote, “Millennials keep pace with total US adults until it comes to comparing the number of heavy readers,” which is when adults outpace millennials by almost a half. However, young people have always read the newspaper less, even before people carried the Internet around in their pockets. As Christopher Sopher shows in his report on young people and the news, older Americans’ news readership declined by 29 percent since 1972, while that of young people declined by 16 percent.

Even though the decline in news consumption is no worse in young people than it is with older Americans, the same report finds that “millennials also demonstrate lower political and civic knowledge than previous generations of young Americans.” Figures that show how much people read the news do not indicate how much people value or engage with the news. Perhaps that has something to do with the fact that the public’s distrust in the media is at a record high. Certainly, more engagement and openness with the public can help journalists show why their work is important. And perhaps that could help remedy the dismal state of American media compared to other developed countries. As Sopher writes, “Young people, on average, are less engaged with the news on a regular basis than older Americans and than previous generations of young people… given the quality of the news they are offered, it’s hard to blame them.”

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