Iraq War News: Are Young Adults Bored With Its Coverage?

How the news is presented, not the news itself, is putting young adult audiences off, say Central Michigan University media researchers David Weinstock and Timothy Boudreau. Their survey of 244 college students, ages 18 to 25, examines the students’ wartime media uses, preferences and attitudes about news media. The students were surveyed April 21-24, 2003, as U.S. forces were struggling to restore order in Baghdad. The researchers offer the following observations:

Youth interest in the war should have been high. “If the Iraq War had lasted for months instead of weeks, young people likely would have been called to fight. Since no one knew how long the war would last, young adults’ interest in war news should have been very high,” said Weinstock and Boudreau. Forty percent of those surveyed also reported having a family member in the U.S. armed forces.

Youthful news-seekers are quickly satisfied. Though 90 percent of those surveyed stated an interest in the war, 75 percent spent less than one hour finding and reading news. “Whatever interest our students had in war news, stories failed to hold their attention beyond the immediate context of the conflict,” the pair stated.

War news preferred on television. Students relied heavily on television for news about the Iraq war. They saw television as more convenient to use, more credible and more informative than other media. More than three in five (61 percent) in the survey said television was the most informative medium, compared to newspapers (21 percent) and the Web (17 percent).

Few youths take full advantage of Internet features. Less than a third clicked on video links and even fewer clicked on audio links.

There are ways to capture the youth media market. Younger audiences are news browsers and not necessarily newsreaders in a traditional sense, they said, and 59 percent admitted to media multi-tasking, such as e-mailing, instant messaging and downloading music while accessing news. “Perhaps online news producers could learn from online advertising techniques and use pop-up windows for pages that lead to story links,” they said. News producers also should limit quotes to those with the most impact. Weinstock and Boudreau suggested producers should consider limiting stories to one page length so they can be read without scrolling.

Boudreau and Weinstock are members of the Central Michigan University journalism faculty.

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