Teens turn to TV, Internet for news

Tracey Wong Briggs,

Half of all high school students get news online at least once a week, but teens rate TV the easiest-to-use news source - and the most accurate, says a study out Friday.

In the Future of the First Amendment study, which surveyed 14,498 students and 882 teachers at 34 high schools last spring, 45% of teens say TV is the best overall source of news, 44% think it's the most accurate and 43% think it's the easiest to use. Only 28% of teachers thought TV was the best news source, a distant second to newspapers' 48%.

Findings show 90% of students were at least somewhat interested in current events; 51% get news online once a week or more.

Of those who get news online, ease of use may be a factor. While 66% get news from sites such as Google, Microsoft, AOL or Yahoo at least weekly, only 21% get it weekly from national newspaper sites.

"The Internet is part of the basket kids reach for to get their news," says study co-author David Yalof. The percentage of students who routinely get news from media websites, online publications and blogs may be small, but the survey shows students go to "a patchwork quilt of sources," he says.

But findings hold hope for newspapers, or at least their websites.

Thirty years ago, teens didn't read newspapers at all, picking up the habit only in their 20s or 30s, says Jeffrey Cole of the Center for the Digital Future at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles.

Today's teens care more about news than teens in the past, because kids have figured out that what happens halfway around the world can affect their lives, he says. "The fact that teens rate television highly simply reflects that newspapers and newsmagazines aren't part of their life offline."

They may never pick up newspapers in adulthood, but when they get older they will gravitate more toward online sites of respected news sources, he says.

"Teens live in a world of user-generated content," such as MySpace and Facebook, Cole says. "As people get into their 20s and 30s, they rely less on peers as a source and want authoritative information."

The study was sponsored by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which funds journalism and free-speech initiatives. The margin of error was 1 percentage point for students and 3.6 points for faculty.

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