By Liam Dwyer
The coming of each new generation brings with it a flourish of new ideas, new fashions and tastes, as well as new ways of doing things. In this particular instance, that difference is what news sources different generations trust and listen to. No time has better illustrated that difference than the before and during this current Covid-19 pandemic.
For the younger generation, those currently in college, many are turning to alternative forms of news. They watch Youtubers like Philip Defranco that morph international and Youtube-centric news in short daily videos. Some scroll through Twitter or Facebook following official news organizations or random individuals they trust. For them the news is only found on the screen of their phone or computer, not television.
A person’s choice in news can shape their perception of the day’s events. It can tell them whether a small viral outbreak in a region in China will bring the world to a halt in the coming months, or whether its nothing to worry about.
On one end of the spectrum stands people like Julian Dwyer, a freshman in General Studies at the University of Illinois. He almost exclusively gets his news secondhand from talking to his friends or via Twitter. Julian attributes his early concerns on the virus to his following of non-mainstream media accounts on twitter,
Some of the account he follows may have “called it” earlier than others, but they also appear to engage in a number of dubious or otherwise proven false conspiracy theories. One such account Julian mentioned following, @LokiJulianus,has also been known to post racist or otherwise discriminatory tweets prior to focusing on the CoronaVirus. In the end Julian admits that while this method of following non-traditional media works for him, it likely wouldn’t work for everyone,
Julian wasn’t the only person to mention primarily getting their news from alternative sources. Cameron Bryum-Ramberg, a second-year senior studying English and Creative Writings, get most of his news from YouTube videos, specifically those by Philip Defranco.
The channel currently has 6.4 million subscribers and puts out daily videos about everything from YouTube drama to national stories to international news. Defranco would be considered a second-hand source as the majority of his information come from other news organizations, but that doesn’t mean he’s slow to report the news.
In fact, while he may not have started talking about Covid-19 as early as late December, the first video he posted on the subject was January 21st, about the first case of the virus in America, the same day that NPR made their post about the story.
Both Twitter and Youtubers have the potential to provide factual news, however, unlike mainstream media, it often isn’t as consistent. Twitter is as likely used to talk about the latest Tik-Tok trends as it is viruses, and Defranco often covers several topics in his videos that aren’t news related.
This may be one reason both Julian and Bryum-Ramberg mentioned not feeling overly concerned about catching the disease as Bryum talks about,
Without a 24-hour news cycle constantly talking about and debating the virus, they have time to let other concerns keep their attention. They can choose when to rejoin the conversation by picking a video or opening Twitter, or when turn it off.
More to that point, the two individuals interviewed who partook in a hybrid news experience, i.e using Facebook to follow traditional sources like NPR and NYT or following twitter and watching CNN, seemed more concerned about the disease.
Roberto DeVera is a senior pre-med student at the University of Illinois and until he went home primarily got his news from twitter and friends. When he got home, however, the conversation surrounding Covid-19 was from CNN, and he says he saw a noticeable shift its in his perception,
He also noticed a certain amount of misinformation being broadcast, something he felt emphasized the importance of picking your new source carefully as he talks about,
DeVera isn’t the only one that found uncertainty and concern in traditional media. Alexa Yeo, a senior in Engineering, talked about how the severity of the disease hit her one week after a flood of stories from NPR were posted on Facebook,
Just looking at NPR’s archives for March 31st, around the time Alexa remembers her experience being, reveals that out of the 40 or so stories NPR published, around 30 were related to covid-19. While all of those may not have been posted to Facebook, it does bear questioning what amount of news is too much? Does this flood of information serve the public, or simply serve to fuel the public’s fear.
On the flip side of that question is what happens when the media doesn’t tell you enough or take a pandemic seriously enough. Fox News came under fire from several organizations including the Washington Post for what they say was “downplaying of the coronavirus“
It’s something that worries people Susan Dwyer, a part-time flight attendant. Her father watches Fox News exclusively and she believes it has lead him to be continuously misinformed about Covid-19,
Proclaiming to be “fair and balanced”, Fox News has often talked about how it stands apart from the traditional mainstream media message. This time, however, it may face legal trouble over its portrayal of the virus according to one'Vanity Fair'article,
“Fox is now layering up, bracing for a litany of public-interest lawsuits and letters of condemnation for pedaling misinformation for weeks prior to coronavirus's explosion in the U.S.”
Whether anything is to come of the action is not at this time known, though it is interesting to note that out of the 6 individuals interviewed for this article, 3 mentioned Fox News and the accusations of misinformation, citing it as part of why they don’t trust that particular news source.
This might simply be an indication of their preference in news as those 3 also indicated they viewed CNN as part of their daily news intake. Serving as an example of typical mainstream TV media, CNN, along with Fox News, is often quoted and cited in many of the second-hand news sources mentioned early like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.
One notable stand-out among my interview with long-time CNN follower Tom Dwyer is his perception of how long this pandemic might last. CNN has long been critical of the federal government’s, and President Trump’s, response to the Covid-19 pandemic. They have published articles that call out the President for talking about disinfectant in the latest press briefing and calling into question his disagreeing of Georgia’s decision to open up.
That may well be the origin of Tom Dwyer’s belief that the virus could last up to a year due to the lack of federal response,
In the end, though, every individual is different. The way they watch the news and the way those sources tell the story minutely biased in one way or the other. While Twitter and Youtube might be a quick on-demand option, its sources can often be dubious or secondhand. While official sources do tend to be less biased, the flood of information they produce might be overwhelming, and they may at times give in to bias themselves.
While the question of which new source is the right one can never truly be answered, it is clear that a new generation is taking to less traditional sources of news, to Twitter, Facebook, and Youtube, while the older generation decidedly sticks to TV news. What effect this change will have, if any, remains to be seen, but this pandemic demonstrated now more than ever the generational gap that even reaches as far as our choice of media.