An increasing amount of distrust in the news media is a hot topic these days. While adults and consistent news consumers are usually the focus of such studies, those who are still in school are often left out of this conversation. And they shouldn’t be, especially considering the findings below.
A national study of 9,774 high school students and 498 teachers is the seventh in a series of national surveys of high school students and teachers commissioned by Knight Foundation over the last 12 years. This year’s survey incorporated several questions from Gallup’s Free Expression on Campus survey of college students, released in 2018, in order to compare the two surveys.
Among the findings, 89 percent of high school students agree that “people should be allowed to express unpopular opinions,” consistent with previous Knight surveys of high school students.
Almost half (49 percent) of high school students and more than half of teachers (51 percent) say they have not much or not any trust in the media to report news accurately and fairly.
In addition to low levels of trust in news, students report lower news consumption and engagement.
The sharpest drops in news media engagement were reported for consumption of local TV news and cable TV news. 30 percent reported watching local news often in 2016 versus 14 percent in 2018. Similarly, 26 percent reported watching cable news often versus 12 percent in 2018.
But teens are definitely still consuming news, they’re just doing it on digital platforms, right? Not according to this study. Engagement with the news on social media also dropped. Only 46 percent of students say they often use social media to get news, compared with 51 percent in 2016.
There also seems to be an increased trust in citizen journalism.
In 2018, 40 percent of students said they trusted content—pictures, videos and accounts—posted by people more than traditional news sources; this number grew from 26 percent in 2016. Teachers also show large increases in trust for citizen journalism efforts.
Unlike those who work in and cover the media 24/7, teens don’t really deem “fake news” as a threat to democracy. Just 21 percent of high school students view fake news as a significant threat to democracy. In contrast, 40 percent of teachers view it as a threat to democracy.
“The massive changes in the media environment over the past few decades has led to shifts in how high school students use and feel about the media. While basic support for speech and press freedoms has been unwavering, to ensure a bright future for the First Amendment, we must seek to understand the evolving forces that shape it,” said Kenneth Dautrich, author of the report and president of The Stats Group.