Social media now the main news source for younger audiences

There’s not a lot of great news in the fifth annual Oxford University Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism survey. The most favored sources of news for people are the media least likely to provide in-depth information and, in many cases, serious news.

The biggest change, the survey said, has been the growth of news accessed via social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat. That’s not terribly surprising; it’s not terribly depressing. Social media is a great place to learn about the news because it’s so easy for journalists to get bottom-line information to the audience quickly.

Where it becomes “interesting” — to coin a term — is where social media is the dominant source of information.

The majority of a younger audience now gets its news primarily through social media. The survey, a reputable annual piece of research, seemed through the quotes that illustrate the respondents choices, to also make them appear as vapid as some of the stories that qualify as news.


Totally. I mean one minute a 69-year-old man is alive and then he’s dead. Crazy, right?

One in 10 people now use social media as their main source of information, but it’s a statistic that’s still hard to translate since a sizeable amount of that information comes from the work of mainstream reporters, who are often toiling for institutions that are dying. When the plug is finally pulled on newspapers, for example, what then?


“Social media is just one way of accessing online news – the vast majority of which still ends up being consumed on a news website,” the survey says.

In addition to online access, most consumers also continue to access news via TV, radio, or print but the extent of this is significantly affected by age. For every group under 45, online news is now more important than television news. For 18–24s social media (28%) comes out ahead of TV (24%) for the first time with print lagging behind at just 6%.

But a startling conclusion of the survey is that people are just fine with social media algorithms replacing human editors in selecting what news people see. Thirty-six percent said they are happy with algorithms selecting the news based on what people have already ready, while only 30 percent said they are most happy with the judgment of editors.

But the survey said “traditional” news brands are still enormously important. “Most of the content consumed still comes from newspaper groups, broadcasters, or digital born brands that have invested in original content,” it said.

It’s hard to know how far – or how fast – the shift to distributed media will go, but this feels like the beginning of a new phase of media disruption. News organisations will need to keep adapting to the changes ahead – whilst recognising that journalistic track record, trust, and brand equity will remain necessary if not sufficient ingredients of success.

  • BReynolds33

    I’ve been trying to get through to people that social media is not a cure all, fix all, do all, or anything-all. It is simply a distribution method. It cannot replace anything, and does not replace anything. It is more, not instead of.

    But, what do I know? I just get paid to do this.

    • The problem is that people are not curious about details, which is why they don’t ask “is this true”?

      In the vacuum of facts — and we know that social media cannot provide all the facts — people will substitute their own. Those facts are available, of course, but people simply aren’t as willing to take the time to acquaint themselves with them anymore.

      The net result being that, while they are informed, they are poorly informed.

      • Postal Customer

        That assume that the traditional media has the facts.

  • Sam M

    For me it’s a way to aggregate the traditional sources. One place many outlets.

  • Mike

    A complex topic, for sure, but apparently the majority are clicking through social media to a news website. I would imagine at least some of those are significant news organizations that employ real reporters. On the face of it that wouldn’t seem to be a problem, though there’s the ongoing concern about revenue potential in the digital world.

    TV news long ago ceased to be relevant to any serious seeker of information – when the networks decided to make them into profit centers. The days of Walter Cronkite are long gone. Local TV news has been a joke since forever.

    The algorithm question is uncharted territory. Editors are human beings and therefore have bias, sometimes disclosed and often not. Algorithms can be gamed.

  • Gary F

    Had that discussion with my 20 year old son. His news sources are basically click bait headlines with not much to back up the initial outrage headline. We went in depth on lots of stories and maybe because he’s 20, but he had no interest in checking other sources or being more informed than just his click bait sites.

    • Not to put too fine a point on this, but just look at how many commenters here occasionally note, “I didn’t click the link in the post but…..”

  • Sam M

    Before the internet how many outlets did people have access to?

    I bet it wasn’t very many. Is that a good thing?

  • Fred, Just Fred

    Thirty-six percent said they are happy with algorithms selecting the
    news based on what people have already read[y], while only 30 percent said
    they are most happy with the judgment of editors.

    Couple of points.

    Citing Facebook as an example, there is a question as to whether algorithms select news on what people have already read, or on what the algorithms’ owners want you to read and not read. The latter would follow the pattern of traditional MSM sources (NPR being a prime example) that may not skew the news report, per se, but skew what gets reported or ignored. So, the willfully ignorant wont detect any difference in the status quo.

    Secondly, if people report they are satisfied with an algorithm choosing their stories for them, doesn’t it follow that these people are averse to reading reporting that doesn’t meet their predetermined comfort zone? And doesn’t that increase the opportunity to redefine historical fact to a gullible audience?

    I think the answer to both is yes, and as an example I submit the meme being circulated among the left that the FBI “cleared” Hillary Clinton of criminal wrongdoing while Secretary of State. Confronted with the facts (Comey concluded she may have broken the law, but they couldn’t prove intent, which is evidently a new standard in criminal prosecutions), many Clinton supporters absolutely refuse to read any credible source, even the verbatim transcript of Comey’s testimony.

    This is learned behavior, and a very dangerous one for a democracy, in my opinion.

    • // it follow that these people are averse to reading reporting that doesn’t meet their predetermined comfort zone?

      This is a good question, though “comfort zone” is a debatable point.

      I skip a lot of the stories in the paper based on the headlines, not so much because they make me uncomfortable. Mostly because they fail to interest me. I could probably find something interesting in them if I stopped to read them. But I things to do and many other stories to ignore, and I need to get on with it.

      • Fred, Just Fred

        Comfort zone isn’t the best way to put it, I hate to dredge up the old
        cognitive dissonance chestnut, but it does apply here, I think.

        For instance, if you were at all interested in the investigation, would you click this link:

        FBI Clears Hillary in Email Issue

        Or this one:

        FBI Rewrites Federal Law to Let Hillary Off the Hook

        Or, would you, like me, choose both?

        The former is a celebration that completely ignores inconvenient truths, namely the FBI didn’t clear Hillary, and freely quotes out of context.

        The second delves into the bizarre new standard cited by Comey, and cites, chapter and verse, why it ignores existing law. I wish there was a story that made the argument it didn’t ignore existing law, but I haven’t seen one anywhere.

        It is my contention that being inquisitive enough to dig for the facts, even if they conflict with what you may like to believe, is a learned behavior. And further, I contend the millennium generation isn’t learning it, in part because their news is being tailored for them, through social media, by faces unseen.

        You said it yourself: The problem is that people are not curious about details, which is why they don’t ask “is this true”?

        • I didn’t click either one but it depends on where they go, assuming I’m interested in the story. Would I click on it if it went to Daily Kos or Breitbart? Nope.

        • Rob

          A headline declaring that the FBI cleared Hillary would never be posted by a reputable news organization.

    • Rob

      I’m among the left and have never spread the notion that the FBI cleared Hilllary. I read and listen to reputable news sources, none of which reported that the FBI cleared Hillary.

      • Fred, Just Fred

        I missed the part where I said every leftist.

        • Rob

          Just sayin’ that your broad-brush, inaccurate accusations get tiresome.

  • jon

    So social media is great for when a celebrity dies… then I know about it immediately. I saw that willy wonka died about 20 times yesterday on facebook… I still sometimes hear about prince being dead on facebook… And let’s not forget how much faster social media was in reporting Betty White’s death (probably because she is still alive)

    Facebook fails at reporting things of any more substance than the death of a celebrity…

    Edit: it’s also great for knowing when the new Star Trek/Star Wars/Comic book movie trailers are out…

    • No, I disagree. Social media is great for reporting first word of stories, including those of substance.

      The important thing to remember is — mostly– that these are often shared and retweeted and reposted tweets and posts, so what you see is already influenced by the editorial judgement by the people you’ve chosen to follow and friend.

  • boB from WA

    Onan, this one’s for you: “Shocked, I”m shocked…”

    • Yusss!!!

      /My main source of information is this blog and the “Bob and Mary Show” at 4:20 pm…is that wrong?

  • Moffitt

    I found this post on Twitter, so I am part of a trend.

  • Mike Worcester

    I use both social media and media web sites for information. With social media especially I have “liked” some of the traditional media pages and if they post something I want to read further, I follow the link. It seems to work well. Then again, i also still have a magazine(!) subscription.

  • rallysocks

    >>so social media is great for when a celebrity dies<<
    That's what my kid is for:

  • lindblomeagles

    I don’t think I’m in favor of receiving my news just through social media. There’s a richness to me from acquiring information through a variety of sources, such as some of the morning interviews with Kerri Miller, or the articles written in the Washington Post, or some of the blogs reporting stories that don’t make major news’ outlets, like News Cut. As I learned from report writing in high school and college, diversity of opinions and the timeliness of accurate facts tells us the whole story, not just the parts we want to hear.