Joyce Terhaar

From the Executive Editor: Teens show they're news-savvy

Who would be surprised to hear that the digital media technology most used by teens today is texting?

Nearly two-thirds of students surveyed last spring said they use text technology the most, followed by about one-third who named Facebook as their preferred digital medium.

As a parent to an 18-year-old and a 21-year-old, I already see plenty of evidence of both. But other findings in the survey about news consumption and First Amendment attitudes might not be as apparent.

The survey released recently, the fourth in the Future of the First Amendment series commissioned by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, shows that teens today consume news and information on a regular basis, and they understand that some sources are more reliably accurate than others.

For those of us who believe that an informed and engaged citizenry is essential to a well-functioning democracy, that's good news.

The report, written by Dr. Kenneth Dautrich, a senior researcher at the Pert Group and a professor at the University of Connecticut, is based on a survey of 12,090 high school students and 900 high school teachers.

Survey results show how news habits are changing with this generation. Many teens who read to get their news prefer digital to print, 54 percent to 42 percent. They are, after all, digital natives who have been comfortable around computers almost since they were toddlers.

That shows with teens like Jessica Rodriquez, a senior at River City High School in West Sacramento, who told me she reads sacbee, sfgate and msnbc in school each day to stay abreast of current affairs.

Ilaf Esuf, a junior at Whitney High in Rocklin, said that with her heavy load of college prep courses, "I don't have time to watch TV news, so I try to read it online."

Yet the survey showed teens still are more likely to watch news video on television than on computers (77 percent to 48 percent) and they still read books more often in print than digitally (74 percent to 16 percent).

While teens get their news from a variety of sources, they find one source far more credible than others: newspapers.

Teens trust newspaper reporting more than other media, the survey found, with 88 percent of teens saying that newspapers are very or somewhat truthful. Seventy-eight percent of teens found television to be very or somewhat truthful, but only 58 percent said the same of websites and 34 percent of social networks.

The Knight Foundation has been measuring student knowledge about, and opinion of, First Amendment rights since 2004. This survey showed teens as more appreciative of those rights than did past surveys, and found a strong tie between that appreciation and teen use of social media. Ninety-one percent of teens who use social media daily to get news and information said they agree "people should be able to express unpopular opinions" without getting into trouble.

That's what this generation does, of course – express opinions everywhere online. That they also use new and old technology to stay informed, and are savvy consumers of the benefits and limitations of each, is reassuring for all of us.