In the past, I have looked at questions pertaining to fake news such as “What does it have to offer to political discourse?” and “What are its effects on its audience?” This week’s reading, however, was gauged more toward answering the question of “Why are people turning towards fake news?” specifically the claimed disaffected youth.
In her article, “With Facebook, Blogs, and Fake News, Teens Reject Journalistic Objectivity”, Regina Marchi defines fake news as “ entertainment TV shows that parody network news, using satire to discuss public affairs”. Marchi claims there are two types of citizens: the dutiful and the actualizing. The older generation seems to identify more with the first model of citizenship, as they “feel an obligation to closely follow the daily news and participate in government-centered activities such as voting and party politics”. The younger generation, however, falls more typically into the second model of citizenship, with “a diminished sense of government obligation, a mistrust of mainstream news media and politicians, and a higher sense of self-purpose”. Marchi’s article featured an interview-based study conducted among this younger generation, specifically high-schoolers, exploring how their perception of traditional news outlets has affected their choice of news sources.
In fact, in D. Mindich’s article “Tuned out—Why Americans under 40 don’t watch the news”, there is a contention that there is a generational shift away from news, particularly political news. In Marchi’s article, she references various other researchers, coming to the conclusion that the “youth have an interest in current events but find conventional newspapers and TV news boring, difficult to understand, and irrelevant to their lives”.
Addressing each of these separately may give insight into why this younger identified generation is seeking news from other media outlets, such as social media, news aggregators, and fake news.
First of all, the contention that news is boring. The reality is that traditional news outlets are held to traditional news values such as honestly, objectivity, and clarity. Sensationalizing news, fear mongering, and pandering to the public are considered unprofessional and undesirable to the public good. Fake news however, is held to very different standards. The use of flashy intros, popular music, and colorful infographics is common among fake news practitioners. Because their purpose is recognized as primarily being a source of entertainment, however, their credibility is not questioned in the same manner as a traditional news source’s would be. Fake news can afford to be entertaining, while still delivering news that is factually correct and relevant to global current events.
Secondly, the claim that traditional news is difficult to understand. In simple terms of number of years, the older a person is, the more amount of time they have spent alive, and the more time they have had to become educated. Added to this is the element of experience. The chances that an older person was alive when a historic event took place are greater than that of a younger person, so to them it is not mere history – it is memory and experience. This context may facilitate their understanding of current events.
For younger viewers though, they are working with less time, therefore less opportunity to obtain knowledge and less experience, therefore less personal context. It should not be surprising that younger viewers find traditional news difficult to understand. Where fake news comes in is that, unlike traditional news outlets, they cater to this younger audience because, at the end of the day, they are run by a private corporation seeking profit and this youth is the majority of their viewership. Marchi observes that, “the in-depth discussions found on The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, in particular, provide information on institutional processes (i.e., how a bill becomes law, or how the Electoral College functions) rarely explained in mainstream news”. Thus, fake news is easier to understand.
This brings us to the last claim: that traditional news is irrelevant. One of the defining differences between the current generation and that of those in the past is the number of media outlets available to us. As time has progressed, the number of media platforms and sources has increased. This has led to specialized niches for more content-specific news, be it in the form of hobby magazines, Google alerts, personalized newsfeeds, or vegan cooking blogs. The phenomena of content filtering and personalized news have given people, for the first time in history, the ability to customize the kind of news coming to them – thus enabling them to feel that everything presented is specifically relevant to their individual tastes.
The delivery mode of most traditional news outlets, however, is still one-way. One individual in California watching CNN does not see something different than another in Maine. If there are forest fires in California though, the person in Maine may feel that this story is largely irrelevant to their life. While The Colbert Report or The Daily Show also operate on a one-way delivery mode, they weed through their stories with much more scrutiny than traditional news stories for content that is almost guaranteed to be relevant to viewers, no matter their individual tastes or circumstances. This is because, at most, either one of these shows have about twenty minutes a day to engage audiences, while news channels usually have 24/7 coverage. Thus, fake news cannot afford to waste its limited time addressing issues only a proportion of its audience find relevant because they will lose viewership and money. Out of necessity, one of their primary objectives must be relevance.
From her interview-based study, Marchi found youths’ impressions of traditional news outlets to be boring, difficult to understand, and irrelevant. From our discussion on why a younger generation may have these impressions, we can illustrate exactly what the appeal of fake news is: fake news is interesting, easy to understand, and relevant. This also brings the question to light of whether “the fault lies more with the government performances and news narratives than with citizens who cannot engage with them” as L.W. Bennett suggests. If traditional news outlets are worried about the growing decline in youth viewership, perhaps they should consider taking these findings into consideration and adapting to their changing audience. Or, perhaps fake news has found its own niche with an audience alienation by traditional news outlets and is here to stay.