Here our next in the series of Q & A with scholars researching topics relevant to our division.

Prepared by Amber Hinsley, PF&R Chair

Q: You’re studying news engagement of high school students in Texas. Where are you at with this project?

I am finalizing plans to launch the study in two high school social studies classrooms: Lubbock High School and Coronado High School. I’ve received approval from the Lubbock Independent School District research chair and the social studies coordinator, Joni Rodela, who has identified two teachers known for their student engagement and use of current events in class. The two schools are fairly different, with Coronado offering a more diverse student population, which is important.

These teachers will each conduct one experimental and one control section. The experiment involves a 5-minute daily news game in which students in the experimental section are assigned to teams, which then compete with the instructor and each other over current events knowledge. An important and unique part of extending the study from college to high school classrooms is that researcher funding was used to buy three dozen short-term subscriptions to the local daily newspaper, the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, which will be made available to needs-based families which don’t subscribe. The hope is that these underserved families, after being exposed to the experiment, will opt to continue subscribing after the 3-month study period ends.

I hope to launch before the end of the current semester but because of IRB and logistical delays, it may be fall before this study launches at the high-school level.

I also intend to work with my new contacts in the school district and these two schools to bring journalists, journalism faculty from Texas Tech and newsmakers into high school classrooms in an effort that I hope will leave students more engaged in the news and more likely to consider a journalism career.

Q: How is your project different from other youth news engagement studies that have been done?

Traditional efforts, like Newspapers in Education, are important and have served as guides for future engagement. But I think it’s imperative to make news engagement more interacting and, frankly, entertaining. The addition of a game element brings with it the opportunity for a more organic interest in following the news because there are now competitive, engaging and social reasons to be up to speed on current events. It is easily replicable and linking it with local journalism faculty and journalists – especially exposure to newspapers in the home – makes is unique and important to the industry – and to informed democracy.

This is also a logical area for the pursuit of extramural funding, and not from traditional journalism foundations but rather from educational foundations and agencies, which may offer more viable opportunities for funding. Obvious uses of the funds are newspaper subscriptions, honoraria for newsmakers and journalists to visit classes and monetary incentives for the teachers conducting the experiment.

 Q: You also use news engagement activities in your classes. What has been the most surprising thing you have learned?

Frankly, I’ve been dismayed at the lack of interest in being informed among current journalism students. I would love to haughtily assume it’s a generational thing, but I know there’s evidence that people have long ignored political news until it’s time to vote. I believe we need to do two things differently, or at least better, to engage members of the Millennial generation:

1) We should to make news knowledge more engaging. This can, and should, involved making it more entertaining, necessary and relevant. Think about how often you see a high school student in a news story, or how often an education beat reporter covers issues of relevance to them, like college admissions strategies, costs, employment opportunities, questions about curriculum changes, etc. We need to cover this population more and better which takes away one excuse for avoiding the news. Then we need to work to make news more necessary by regularly illustrating the role of news in society. Finally, my news game is an attempt to pair news…and fun.

2) We need to work harder to get news into the spaces where these students already are: Mobile and social media (and not just Facebook, but Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter…). News alerts can, and should, target this demographic and it makes sense to consider hiring very young journalists to work in the social media space. They (like, literally) speak the language and can bring an authenticity and appeal that someone my age simply can’t. I advocate for social-media internships and even part-time jobs to give young, aspiring journalists an entry into the industry.

Q: Looking at your research findings as well as your classroom experiences, what advice would you give media managers looking to increase their organizations’ engagement with teens and young adults?

As I mentioned above, we need to do a better job using the resource that is digital natives and putting them to work for us using mobile and social media. Research shows that journalists use Twitter, for example, to promote their existing content (including links to a mainstream news website), to search for sources and information, and to engage the audience. That makes it a rich environment, then, to increase engagement with teens and young adults by exposing them to news, getting them involved in stories and joining the conversations they’re already having. We’ve tried reaching youth by changing the content – we need to try harder to reach them by making fundamental changes in how we produce, distribute and discuss news.

Kelly Kaufhold, Ph.D., worked for 20 years in the media in Ohio, Texas and Florida as a print and broadcast journalist before returning to graduate school for a second career. He now teaches all things digital media in the College of Media and Communication at Texas Tech University, where he was just honored as a top new faculty member. He created and teaches the innovative course Storytelling by Smartphone and is heavily involved in Texas Tech’s multimedia journalism sequence. He also teaches web design, serves on the graduate faculty and has published research on new media in Newspaper Research Journal, Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, the International Journal of Media Management and elsewhere. He is a co-editor, along with Amber Willard Hinsley and Seth C. Lewis, of The Future of News.