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Teenagers Find Online News Stressful

January 28, 2008 | by Wendy Leopold
EVANSTON, IL --- It's not the advertising that bothers teens when it comes to online news, it's the news itself that they find troubling, according to a Northwestern University study on the online news experiences of teenagers.

While the 14- to 18-year-old study participants described time spent on YouTube or social networking and music downloading sites as a treat or time-out, they described their online news experiences as stressful or a reminder of the world's dangers.

"We found teens are unlikely to follow serious news online, but that they will click on news stories that appeal to them when they find them on other sites," said Michael P. Smith, executive director of Northwestern's Media Management Center (MMC). "Teen after teen told researchers that they'll view news stories 'if something catches my eye.'"

The study report, "If It Catches My Eye: An Exploration of Online News Experiences of Teenagers," suggests news organizations can -- and should -- cultivate teen audiences by learning what appeals to them, diminishing their angst, going to the Web sites teens frequent and creating ways teens can communicate with one another about the news.

It found a small teen subset that keeps up with the news and considers what they learn from it an important part of their emerging identity. The report suggests news outlets work to intensify that feeling by building a sense of fun about following the news.

The MMC report is based on a qualitative, in-depth study of 65 diverse Chicago-area teens conducted in 2007. Among other research findings and recommendations:

--Teens get most of their news online from the large Internet portals and news aggregators that pop up when they go online -- not from local media Web sites. News organizations should develop widgets, partnerships and news feeds tailored for teens so their content is on the sites and places where teens spend their time online.

--Teens' favorite sites for news online score high points for being easy to use, useful, and trustworthy, and for providing them something to talk about.

--Because news often is stressful for teens, news outlets should actively experiment with ways to diminish negative associations and make news a better springboard for talk, action and change; writing about teens' feeling of peril and about the subjects they're worried about; and increasing attention given to solutions and problem-solvers.

The study, funded by the MMC and McCormick Tribune Foundation, is part of MMC's ongoing research into consumer "experience" and factors contributing to greater news engagement.

For a copy of the report, visit <http://www.mediamanagementcenter.org/research/teeninternetstudy.pdf>. For commentary, visit <http://www.readership.org/blog2/2008/01/infrequent-and-indifferent-youth-and.html>.

Topics: Research