05/21/2012 03:04 pm ET Updated Jul 21, 2012

A Student Perspective: Generational Differences in News Use

Students in my Politics and Media class at the University of Delaware have been writing blogs on current issues and relating them to class content this semester. As outlined in a previous blog, I'm posting some of their work as part of the "Blog Blog Project." This entry, written by UD student Tywan Brooks, looks at how people consume news differently across generations.

The Pew Research Center has identified three types of media users: Traditionalists, Integrators, and Net-Newsers. Traditionalists are those people who get their news solely from the ol' boob tube. Integrators use a mixture of both television and Internet, and the Net-Newsers get their bulk of news strictly from the Internet. I am in my 20's and am a Net-Newser. My mom, on the other hand, is a Traditionalist.

Because my mom relies pretty much only on TV for news, I have noticed that she gets her news much later than I get mine because she has to wait until after work to catch up on current events. Most of my friends are Integrators -- they do not have the passion to get the news as it drops online like I do. They will sometimes run into headlines when they are already on the web, and they will also occasionally watch TV news.

My situation resembles the Pew data, which demonstrates some important generational differences in news media use. While I may find it pointless to watch the news, I hear my mom talking to the TV as if someone other than me is listening to her. I'd much prefer to leave a comment online; I know it probably won't go too far in changing the world, but at least someone will read to agree, disagree, or, if I'm lucky, change their mind. But in reality, I am just one of the many soldiers that fight in the Internet partisan war.

Have you ever looked at the comments section of articles about the 2012 presidential race? They get pretty intense. Political websites may be only a small portion of the Internet, but besides websites dedicated to politics, social media give just about anyone a big enough voice to spread their opinions. A simple picture meme can trigger thousands of "likes" or "comments" on Facebook. Pictures like these can sometimes build up enough Internet buzz to earn a spot on the 6 o'clock news, where they gain even more exposure. Only then will my mom finally see one of the many Internet memes.

In class, we had a discussion on how Net-Newsers pick and choose their sources. The Pew Research Center's Internet and American Life Project found that, during the 2010 midterm election, 73 percent of adult internet users (representing 54 percent of all U.S. adults) went online to get campaign news and 22 percent used Twitter or a social networking site for political purposes. But if people tend to view news that is more likely to fall in line with their own views than contradicting ones, Net-Newsers are likely migrating to sites that fit their own viewpoints more and more, engaging in a process of selective exposure.

The question I left class with was, "How do we make it so that people spend a more equal amount of time looking at news that contradicts their own viewpoints as well as those that support them?" If we know that younger people are more likely to use the Internet for news, and older people are more likely to use TV, perhaps we can encourage all citizens to look for a little news each day that might counter their views. That way, it won't be so easy to engage in selective exposure and people might be exposed to differing points of view rather than only seeing their own views echoed back at them. I think it's time we start taking action against our tendencies toward selective exposure. So the next time my mom is watching TV news, I'll ask her to spend half of every hour of news to watch opposite viewpoints, and I'll be sure to read a variety of news and opinions every day. It's a small step, but it could just bring generations closer together.