‘Future of the First Amendment: What America’s High School Students Think About their Freedoms’

  • America’s young people really ARE plugged into the news.
  • But they rarely get it off the newsstand. The media choices of their parents are related to their own choices. Except in the case of the Internet, where they outnumber their parents.
  • Use of news sources among young people varies by race/ethnicity, gender, age, how well they are doing in school, where they live, and their income levels.

In 2004, The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation commissioned a study of more than 100,000 high school students across the country.[1] In that survey young people were asked how often they used news sources (on a five-point scale from never to every day), which sources they used and what their parents used as well.  The data in this report are taken from that survey.

Are young people really consuming news?

Yes, frequently, and from multiple sources.

Nearly 80% of parents and 57% of the students use some news source on a daily basis.  More than three-quarters of both students and parents rely on multiple weekly news sources, and use television as their most consistent resource, followed by radio.  On average, students report using 2.5 news sources on a weekly basis, whereas their parents use three.

While students report that their parents more often use most news sources than they do, the exception is the Internet, where 44% of students report use several times a week or more, compared to 40% of their parents who are on line reading news that often.  The gap between parental and student use is greatest for newspaper reading where only 35% of students but 63% of parents read it frequently.

Do parental choices seem to be related to student choices of news sources?

As the graphs below show, student patterns of news consumption are strongly related to what their parents use.  If the TV is on, young people too watch the news.  If Newsweek  is in the house, chances are greater that young people will pick it up.  Even in the case of the Internet, students who use this source more often also perceive that their parents use it.

How do news sources and frequency of use differ among subgroups of young people?

There are gender, race/ethnicity, and other differences in the consumption of news by young people.  As the table below shows:

  • All subgroups of young people receive a majority of their news from television.
  • Males are more likely than females to read newspapers, news magazines, and to use the internet, while females are more likely to listen to news radio programming.
  • Latinos are less likely than non-Latinos to use all news sources with the exception of news magazines.
  • White students are most likely to use the radio as a news source, but least likely to read news magazines.  Black students are most likely to watch television news coverage, but least likely to obtain their news from the Internet.  Asian students are most apt to use the Internet as a frequent news source and rely least on radio programming.  They also are more likely to read news magazines than any other racial/ethnic group.
  • Media use grows as teens age
  • Students with higher grades use all media sources with greater regularity.
  • Students born in the USA are more reliant on radio and television news than their foreign born counterparts, but less reliant on internet and news magazine coverage.
  • Students from high income families report more regular use of all news outlets than those from middle or low income families, with the exception of television. 
  • Students from urban schools use all news sources more consistently, with the exception of the Internet, for which suburban students report the most frequent use.

Percent Using Source at Least Once a Week   Newspaper Radio Television Internet Magazines Male (N = 50,666) Female (N = 50,980) 39%*** 31% 50% 63%*** 70%*** 68% 46%*** 42% 22%*** 20% Hispanic (N = 12,610) Non-Hispanic (N = 86,377) 34%* 35% 53% 57%*** 68% 69%** 41%*** 45% 25%*** 20% White (N = 71,526) Black (N = 11,277) Asian (N = 4,188) Native American (N = 1,886) Other Race (N = 10,803) 35% 36% 36% 37%*** 33% 57%*** 55% 46% 55% 52% 69% 71%*** 68% 64% 69% 46% 37% 52%*** 42% 40% 19% 24% 29%*** 21% 26% Born in USA (N = 94,537) Born in Foreign Country (N = 7,821) 35% 35% 57%*** 45% 69%***  67% 44%      46%*** 20% 29%*** Urban Comm. (N = 20,947) Suburban Comm. (N = 37,165) Rural Comm. (N = 49,222) 37%*** 34% 35% 57%* 56% 56% 72%*** 70% 67% 45% 48%*** 41% 23%*** 21% 20% Low Income (N = 14,651) Middle Income (N = 59,878) High Income (N = 26,916) 31% 34% 39%*** 53% 56% 57%*** 65% 70% 70%*** 37% 43% 51%*** 20% 20% 25%*** Up to 10th Grade (N = 60,479) 11th-12th Grades (N = 44,291) 31% 40%*** 55% 58%*** 69% 70%*** 42% 46%*** 19% 24%*** G.P.A. = 3.0 or Less (N = 68,223) G.P.A. = 4.0 & Higher (N = 32,734) 34% 38%*** 55% 58%*** 68% 71%*** 42% 49%*** 20% 23%***

* Difference is significant at the ρ < 0.05 level. ** Difference is significant at the ρ < 0.01 level. *** Difference is significant at the ρ < 0.001 level.

Future of the First Amendment: What America’s High School Students Think About their Freedoms, January, 2005, David Yalof and Kenneth Dautrich, principal investigators, John S and James L. Knight Foundation, Miami, FL.