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  • By Jay Shedd

Smartphones, apps are a primary news source

Jay Shedd

Extra, extra! Read all about it! Right now. On your smartphone.

Today, close to 70 percent of people use their smartphone for news on a weekly basis, according to the recently released 2020 Digital News Report, a research publication of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at Oxford University.

You can fall down a rabbit hole finding all kinds of statistics, broken down by generations and other demographics. I know I did.

Some interesting tidbits:

  • Of the countries surveyed by Reuters, 48 percent today use two or more devices to access news, compared to 39 percent in 2014. Smartphones are the most popular source, followed by computers and laptops.

  • A survey completed back in 2015 by Pew Research Center found that 68 percent of smartphone owners in the United States used their phone at least occasionally to follow along with breaking news events, while 33 percent said that they do so “frequently.”

  • Of those who use their smartphone to get the news, those who are over 35 years old are more likely to go directly to a news site through an app or mobile internet browser, while young adults in the Generation Z bracket go straight to social media or messaging apps, according to research. The 25- to 35-year-olds, the so-called “younger millennials,” are a mix of both, with roughly half using social media or messaging apps and the rest going to the direct news source.

The fact that smartphones are the main portal for news may not come as a surprise. After all, smartphones are like a third arm to many. But it is worth examining how smartphones continue to shape our daily lives and to be mindful that we must keep up with the ever-growing digital landscape or be left behind.

What I see as I look through the research and observe the habits of those around me, including myself, is that we have an overwhelming need for convenience and accessibility. Getting the news on your phone is certainly very convenient.

We can get the news at any time, even when not actively looking for news. We see the news when we’re on our phones during our free time and from notifications that pop up while we’re doing something else. The news is everywhere – on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and of course on news apps produced by news agencies and news aggregators, like Apple News, Google News or Flipboard. Younger people are getting news on TikTok and even email newsletters have seen an upturn.

Our smartphone habits encourage the creation easily digested formats, like podcasts and short video content.

Podcasts have resurged in popularity recently. They provide more depth and understanding and can be consumed while multitasking or traveling.

Content producers are taking notice of the rising interest in podcasts. Spotify has invested over $500 million in podcasting in the last 18 months and has reported a doubling of podcast listens. Its investment includes commissioning its own original content.

Instagram Stories and IGTV have paved the way for short form video content on social media, but video has always been a popular format for the news.

Not too long ago, TV was actually the most popular platform for news, according to a 2018 survey by Pew Research Center. However, it was already in decline while news websites began to rise in popularity.

Many news agencies are adapting to these changes and are offering news content on multiple platforms.

Just recently, the National Telecommunications Commission in the Philippines ordered ABS-CBN to stop its free TV and radio broadcasts on May 5, citing the expiration of its legislative franchise. The multimedia giant was forced to halt the satellite transmission of its news broadcasts to homes. However, the organization continues to deliver news to its audience through Facebook, its website and other social media platforms.

With the proliferation of news and smartphones, we have the potential to be more informed than any other generation. However, instantaneous and easy access to news is a double-edged sword. Misinformation or “fake news” spreads more quickly, and can impact our decisions, how we vote and even what we believe about our natural world.

Election interference through social media has been a hot topic since 2016, when Russia reportedly fabricated news articles about Hillary Clinton and set up fake social media accounts claiming to be U.S. citizens in support of radical political groups. These efforts were said to have greatly influenced voters.

Another extreme example is the flat Earth theory. The belief that the Earth is flat sounds like something from the Dark Ages, but the community of people who believe the Earth is flat has grown in the last couple of years, largely due to the internet, specifically YouTube and other social media. The members of this community often share the results of “experiments” or “research” that prove Earth is flat or that “debunk” space research programs like NASA.

Thousands of people have attended Flat Earth International Conferences all over the world, including in the U.S., Brazil, Britain and Italy. There’s even a documentary about this conspiracy theory on Netflix called “Behind the Curve.”

It seems outlandish, but this illustrates the power of having a platform to share one’s ideas and find other like-minded individuals, and how easily we can be led astray from facts and science.

Contributing to the spread of misinformation is the fact people tend to read or watch recaps instead of the full report. Our attention spans are short, and our focus divided. We want to get caught up quickly and move on to more entertaining content.

Additionally, the notorious social media algorithm can skew our access to news and information. The algorithm positions content with the most engagement (likes, comments and shares) at the top of one’s timeline or feed, whether or not the information is factual or from a reliable source. Plus, the algorithm is personalized to show us content similar to our search history and to other content we’ve engaged with.

In general, people are aware of these pitfalls. Surveys from several researchers show that people are concerned about false or misleading information on social media and are concerned that social media essentially controls what is being shown to them. Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have faced a lot of backlash and pressure from advertisers to do more to stop the spread of blatantly false or misleading information.

While we want to keep informed and knowledgeable, we need to be more discerning of our online news sources. Now, more than ever, we have the ability to fact-check, get information straight from the source, or search for multiple corroborating sources.

All in all, the fact that smartphones are the main source of news for many is a sign of our digital transformation as a society. There will always be a need for news, but what is changing is how it’s being consumed and delivered.

Though we are separated by oceans, we are now more connected than ever. The smartphone has opened doors. Wherever we go in this world, we can interact with current events as if we were actually there, all thanks to the smartphone.

— Jay R. Shedd is senior director of Sales, Marketing and Customer Service at IT&E, the largest wireless service and sales provider in Guam and the Marianas. He has more than 30 years of experience in the telecommunications industry.

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