• Call for Papers

Jessica Thom, assistant professor, at Ryerson University’s School of Image Arts. (Jasmine Bala)

By JASMINE BALA
Staff Reporter

While most Canadian millennials get their first taste of news via Facebook posts, Twitter shares and other social media, that is typically just the starting point when it comes to their news consumption habits, a new study suggests.

The study contradicts the commonly held belief that young people don’t go much beyond social media in their quest for news, says Jessica Thom, a Ryerson University School of Image Arts assistant professor and the author of the research. In fact, she said, many youth use social media as a gateway to mainstream news sites.

“They’re really reading the trending topics; they’re reading the title of the article that their friend has posted or shared,” Thom said in an interview. “They’re really getting kind of the bite-sized pieces of news from their social media, and then they either click on that article or they search that title and they find out more information through search engines.”

Participants in the research, which Thom did for her doctoral dissertation, said that after social media such as Facebook brought a news event or development to their attention, they would often use Google to seek out more information from a trusted mainstream news site.

“That is a very conscious decision that they make, to find a mainstream news outlet that they have some sort of understanding of or with,” Thom said. “It’s for the most part not things like blogs, live streams, Twitter or opinion comments on YouTube where they’re going to find out the facts about a news story.”

Thom’s investigation of how young people choose which news to consume and which news to believe involved focus groups, interviews and online diary-keeping. Participants were aged 18 to 29.

If young people weren’t interested in the topic of the story or didn’t think it was important, they normally didn’t go much further than the headline on social media, said Thom.

“That idea of importance was also something that was a little bit vague,” she said. “[It] can be something that’s important to them because they have a family member, a friend or a roommate that has some sort of affiliation to that story. They could be from that country; they could know someone who’s visited that country.”

Participants, she said, clearly understood that reading the news is a key part of being an informed citizen and participating in a democratic society. They demonstrated a “sophisticated approach to—and interest in—becoming informed citizens,” rather than a lazy or haphazard approach to news consumption, she wrote in her dissertation.

Thom noted, however, that young Canadians also “depend on sites and aggregators like Facebook, Snapchat and Google, as well as their friends and family, to funnel important or interesting news to them rather than spending time and mental energy sifting through thousands of news sites, blog posts, YouTube videos, tweets, Snapchats, radio broadcasts and television news bulletins to find the most relevant news.”

The proliferation of fake news, she added, has “made judging the truthfulness and deception in news very challenging,” and this is something millennials have to think about when consuming online news.

When deciding what mainstream news outlet to visit and believe, Thom wrote that young Canadians use a mental checklist. It may include questions like: “Is the source credible? Have you used it in the past? Does it have a tradition? Is the language appropriate? Does the language sound like a professional journalist or does it sound like ‘Joe’s blog’? Is the spelling accurate? Is it more opinion-based or is it more fact-based?”

Study participants, she said, used literacy skills taught in their public school curriculums to determine which sources are the most trustworthy. Although participants pointed to mainstream and legacy media sources as credible, she noted that they generally didn’t believe or trust soft news stories, particularly those that were political.

The young people Thom spoke to indicated that a “breaking news story is instantly believable, but a political story is likely spun in some way,” she wrote, noting that they felt these stories could be more opinion-based and have a political bias.

“It was the difference between reading the facts and knowing the news story and being told an opinion about what that news story is.”

The lesson for news outlets, Thom said, is that they need to share news in a way that follows the gateway system if they want to target young Canadians.

“They not only can make their information easily accessible via social media so that the news can be encountered by them, but [they can] also make sure that it’s a brand that comes to be known [and trusted] by young people earlier in their lives so it becomes more of a habit to use them,” she said. “So, when they go about making a decision about what news they’re going to look at through a search engine, that can be one of the options. Because they know that brand – they know the news organization – that’s something that they’re going to come to trust.”

While this brand might not be a news outlet they use every day, millennials will come to have some sort of understanding and belief in the news outlet’s credibility. It “might be one that they’ve heard about [and see online], one that they know their parents watch at 6 p.m., or that they know that their grandparents have delivered everyday,” Thom said.

Thom said her research objective was to increase and add to the discussion of how people, specifically young Canadians, consume news.

“There’s a lack of dialogue about our news consumption in Canada. Not from journalists who are obviously very interested in this, but from our government, from our public institutions,” she said. “I don’t think that we actually have the numbers and studies that can back that stuff up in a Canadian context.

“The way that we get informed in a contemporary news landscape is something that we need to know a lot more about. Particularly [since] our next generation is going to be getting informed that way.”

Media lawyer and Ryerson School of Journalism adjunct professor Brian MacLeod Rogers. (Paul Lawrence courtesy Ryerson School of Journalism)

By JASMINE BALA
Staff Reporter

The European Court of Justice’s 2014 ruling on the “right to be forgotten” (RTBF) doesn’t just affect search engines, it also has implications for journalists, said Ryerson University School of Journalism adjunct professor and media lawyer Brian MacLeod Rogers.

In 2014, the court ruled that individuals have the right to ask search engines, such as Google, to remove links with personal information if the details are inaccurate or no longer relevant. Search engines have to make case-by-case assessments of requests under EU law.

The decision, Rogers said in an interview, also had implications for reporters in European newsrooms. Journalists there, he explained, have reason to fear that the right could “impact free expression and the ability of news organizations to publish” and to keep information published as a complete historical record.

The ruling has not yet affected Canadian journalists directly, Rogers said. But, he added: “I think that it certainly focuses on an issue that has been a subject of great concern and debate, and that is unpublishing generally.”

Unpublishing is just one of the potential implications of the RTBF idea that is explored by Rogers and Ryerson University School of Journalism professor Ivor Shapiro in a recent paper published in Digital Journalism. The researchers define unpublishing as “retrospective redaction of error-free news reports.”

Researcher and Ryerson School of Journalism professor Ivor Shapiro. (Courtesy Ryerson School of Journalism)

The paper, “How the ‘Right to be Forgotten’ Challenges Journalistic Principles,” not only explains the law that now applies in Europe, but also explores how its core ideas might help journalists resolve dilemmas that they face increasingly often.

“We tried to set out some of the legal principles and the ethical principles behind this decision,” Shapiro said, “to make some suggestions to journalists as to how to handle questions of unpublishing and informed consent.”

Although journalists traditionally resist unpublishing, the increased frequency of requests from members of the public for the removal of articles about themselves has journalists reassessing their practices, explains Shapiro and Roger’s report.

Unpublishing requests often come from people who have previously been accused of crimes and want details of these past accusations erased from online history. “Crime reporting is notoriously episodic and often left unfinished in the public record,” the authors observe in their research paper.

“Individuals who’ve been named in those earlier stories are coming up in [Internet searches], and people getting those results don’t see what happened to the charges and the fact that they may have been thrown out,” said Rogers.

Although unpublishing requests aren’t new, they have become much more frequent as web searches become part of daily routine, Rogers and Shapiro wrote. Meanwhile, journalists are slowly changing their practices with the knowledge that the stories they publish will remain on the web—in some form—forever.

Rogers and Shapiro’s paper describes how, in one journalism ethics class co-taught by the two authors, a news reporter said that “he and a colleague had decided to include a video of a criminal act, showing the face of the alleged perpetrator, but decided against including that person’s full name in the written report. Their grounds for doing so: a face on video will not show up in name-based search results.”

If this had been an old-fashioned print story, explained Shapiro, the journalists would probably have just used the alleged perpetrator’s name. “There’s no possible libel case because they have the crime actually captured on video. So from a legal view, it doesn’t matter whether they use his name or not.”

The RTBF issue has also prompted discussions among journalists about informed consent. Just like unpublishing requests, the concept has traditionally been neglected in journalistic practice, the paper says. Today, however, some journalists are doing more to ensure that sources understand how a story’s appearance on the web could potentially harm them.

Journalists who seek informed consent from sources, the authors wrote, show “an attitude of greater consideration toward ordinary citizens” by explaining the long-term implications of publication.

“I’m not saying that every journalist, before talking to a source, needs to get them to sign a waiver indicating their awareness of all the personal consequences of an interview,” said Shapiro. “But I am saying that the discussion around consent needs to take into account the nature of the personal harm that can come to the person and the means by which [we ensure] that the person is aware of the personal harm that can result.”

As for the law in Canada, the right to be forgotten is unlikely to become a fixture here soon, said Rogers—at least not outside Quebec.

Europe has a long-established legal framework for protecting privacy, Rogers explained, as does Quebec. Litigation in this area is governed not by judge-made common law, but by a civil code and a Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms which, like the European human-rights convention, explicitly includes the right to privacy and the right to reputation. “And I think that there is, to some extent, a different sensibility about privacy and certainly different judicial reasoning around the issue of privacy,” Rogers said.

In common-law Canada, he added, civil rights complaints fall under provincial jurisdiction, so introducing a right to privacy would require the federal government to work with the provinces.