Richard Greene

Students’ reliance on social media for news is troubling, but there’s hope for future

The University of Texas at Arlington has reached an important benchmark toward becoming one of Texas top research universities

The University of Texas at Arlington has reached an important benchmark toward becoming one of Texas top research universities. UTA was already identified as one of the emerging research universities.
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The University of Texas at Arlington has reached an important benchmark toward becoming one of Texas top research universities. UTA was already identified as one of the emerging research universities.

In recent years I have included in my University of Texas at Arlington classes a regular question for my students. I ask them, “How do you know what you know?”

It’s about how they get their news and information about events and issues that are shaping their lives and, especially, how they are using news sources to further their knowledge about their chosen career objectives.

The responses I get won’t surprise most. They are consistent with recent studies of how people are sorting through today’s conglomeration of sources in pursuit of truth.

In a classroom of 25 students, for example, I further my inquiry by offering suggestions of where to look for news and ask how many are using my proposed sources.

First, I hold up a copy of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and ask for a show of hands of those who read it or, for that matter, any newspaper. Maybe two or three will raise theirs.

Then, I inquire further and ask those if they read it every day. Usually, none say they do.

My next inquiry is what in the newspaper do they read about. The typical responses are sports, want ads, or entertainment options in the community.

I press further and ask if any read the news and commentary pages. A couple will say, unconvincingly, that they do. Sometimes.

Then, I move on to television news as an option for them. I tell them there was a time long ago when most Americans, after reading the daily newspaper, planned their evening around the 5:30 p.m. national news casts and ask if any of them regularly tune in at that hour these days.

Almost none do. But a few say they may watch local television news to see what’s happening in their community, check the weather and get some sports scores.

Conclusively, they say all the “old ways” are biased and untrustworthy, and they don’t know what to believe. So, they have chosen to tune out.

I then ask, if they are not accessing any of the historic and conventional means of information gathering, what are they doing to further their knowledge about the community, nation and world.

Nearly all of them say they are using one or more of their electronic devices (phone, tablet, or laptop) to tune in on the endless variety of social media that will seemingly provide the answer to my initial question of how they know what they know.

The realization that the generation that will soon be responsible for the survival of our country, our economy, our political system and way of life are looking daily at a lot of nonsense as some kind of reality, is very sobering.

Actually, according to the latest Pew Research Center findings, social media has surpassed newspapers as a news source for all Americans. Television and newspapers are holding their own with older people.

But, the dominant “news” source for the largest segment of those in the 18-29 age group is the social media while only 16 percent see television reports, and just 2 percent read newspapers.

Granted, some of the social media includes the presence of traditional news outlets, but there’s no measure of how much of it is being fully used.

Wrapping up this engagement, I remind my students that finding truth among it all is their daily challenge, and their powers of discernment should be fully engaged.

I’m optimistic, as maturity happens, most of them will.

Richard Greene is a former Arlington mayor, served as an appointee of President George W. Bush as regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency and lectures at UT Arlington.
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