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News from the Knowledge Society: News Non-Knowledge of German Adolescents – an alarming study?

Adolscents have alarmingly little knowledge about headline news, found a new study of Technical University Dresden, funded by DFG.

Quotes from the final report:

“The younger the citizens the less they have encountered news on politics and current affairs: 24 percent of the adolescents, 34 percent of the young adults, and 42 percent of the older adults were aware of both most important news items. Moving from awareness to information intake an average of 42 percent of all respondents not only had heard about the two most important news items but also received information about it as well. Young people again got less information than the other age groups. Only one out of four of the 14 to 17 year olds informed him- or herself about at least one news topic. The differences in the news sources between the age groups are only marginal here: all age groups inform themselves primarily via television. Traditional mass media still dominates the exposure to news. Only ten percent of the youngest and 18 percent of the middle age group stated the internet as their source of information”

“Social media play a certain but moderate role only for drawing attention to top news: 13 percent of the adolescents who heard of the news topic online caught attention in a social network, 2 percent in blogs”

“How irrelevant news can be to young people is also seen in their interpersonal communication about current events. The youngest age group talks significantly less about the relevant news of the day than do the older age groups. Considering that the frequency of discussions influences political knowledge, news comprehension and political interest [...] this result is alarming. Once people talk about current events there is no difference between the age groups concerning the subject areas: It is again the ‘hot’ subject areas of the survey that are most frequently mentioned.”

And from the report’s final resumee: “The sources, however, do not differ very much between the age groups. Internet and social media play only a marginal role for daily news information, even for the younger generation. In terms of quality of the news it is the profession, not the platform that counts. Professional media, and here predominantly the press, and semi-professional media (that more or less cover the professional media) offer a much higher quality than blogs”

About the study design:

The study was based on three major evidences (declining news use and interest in politics and current events, changing information behavior, increasing tabloidization of political news content). Methodological approach: (1) a representative survey of the German population (n=1,800; disproportional sample by age groups) conducted from April to June 2010;  (2) the subsequent quantitative content analysis (field time February to March 2011) examined the news quality on the issues in respondents’ information sources.

Wolfgang Donsbach: News exposure and news knowledge of adolescents, Final Report, online at: Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Donsbach is Chair of Communication I, Department of Communication at the Technische Universität Dresden.

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