Students ignore campus, hometown news

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An overwhelming majority of UT upperclassmen follow the news regularly, according to informal interviews a School of Journalism class conducted on campus this past week. All but 10 of 64 interview transcripts indicated these juniors and seniors gets news several times a day, daily or several times a week — mainly on their smartphones. 

These numbers are in line with a 2015 American Press Institute survey reporting 69 percent of millennials consume news daily, with 85 percent saying it was “at least somewhat important” to follow the news.

“I think as soon as you stop being on top of current events, you start being ignorant,” geological sciences senior Esben Pedersen told reporter Mary McFadden. “And when you start being ignorant, you start being kind of the problem.”

But these news consumers probably aren’t reading this column or anything else in The Daily Texan. Most of them said they rarely or never read the Texan. A few still think it’s only in print, like the junior marketing major who complained to reporter Erin Chancy: “I’ve just never heard of there being a digital version of Daily Texan. I think if that was more aware, and there was an app and people promoted the app, I would have been more likely to read it.”

A handful of those interviewed are regular Daily Texan readers. Finance junior Xin Dai said she rarely read the Texan as a freshman or sophomore “because she was too lazy to browse newspapers,” reporter Jiayi Sun wrote in her class article.  But now Dai checks the Texan’s Twitter account daily. “The illustrations and videos on Twitter bring stories alive,” she said.

The assignment for J310F, an introductory reporting class, dovetailed with The Daily Texan’s journalism project, so class interviews focused on the news consumption habits of students outside the Moody College of Communication, whose majors should be inclined to follow the news. The class focused on juniors and seniors to learn how their news habits might have evolved. The quotes in this piece come from “information sheets” J310F students completed as quasi-transcriptions for each interview. The results of this assignment are by no means scientific, but the patterns that emerged are worth noting. 

The interviewed students pay attention to national coverage — with the 2016 election causing some to cut back on political news while others were motivated to consume more. But nearly all said they skip their hometown news. Mania Pitia, a social work senior from Arlington, told reporter Andrea Garcia: “I don’t live there anymore and I don’t plan on going back after I graduate. It’s not like I think that is irrelevant for me, I’m just not that interested.”

Many get news on social media, but many go directly to such news sources as CNN, NPR, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. Most of these news consumers complained about bias, from the left and right. CNN, Fox News and The New York Times were described as both credible and biased. Chemistry senior Jonathan Partridge told reporter Kristina Nguyen that CNN is the “propaganda wings for the Democratic Party mostly. They try to be centered, but that’s about it.” He also called Fox News the “propaganda wings for the Republican Party.”

As upperclassmen, they are paying more attention to the news.

“When I was a freshman, I didn’t really follow news at all,” Michelle Zhang, a natural science and liberal arts senior, told reporter Austin Smith. “I kind of lived in my own little bubble.”

They also have become more news savvy. Elizabeth Shih, a biomedical engineering senior, told reporter Azizza Williams that she probably was more gullible as a freshman but has become more critical of news sources. 

“I really like to double-check where it’s coming from,” Shih said. “If it’s a credible site. Because it’s crazy. Because people on my newsfeed will post some ridiculous story or something really dumb about some new scientific discovery, and then I’ll read it and be like, ‘No, that’s not.’”

McElroy is the associate director of the School of Journalism.