The new news in the age of interactive media

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Haiyan Jia news and social media talk

On Nov. 2, Lehigh assistant professor of journalism and communication, Haiyan Jia, spoke about news in the age of interactive media in her talk, “Getting Your News from Facebook, Twitter or a Robot? How Does Communication Technology Inform, Engage, and Overwhelm?” Her presentation, held in the Linderman Scheler Humanities Forum, was part of the Friends of the Lehigh University Libraries Speaker Series.

Jia examined how consumers navigate the new media environment, specifically how new media change the way consumers engage with news, impact readers’ cognition and perceptions, and interrupt content in a very social way. In the past, news was consumed passively, mainly through print and television. Now, online news sites, social networking platforms like Facebook and Twitter, and other technologies offer a fully interactive experience. This interactivity, through shares, likes, and comments -- what Jia calls “technological affordances” -- allows readers to act on content like never before, reshaping the medium, messages, and sources of news themselves.

“It’s a game changer,” she says.

Studies show that the more opportunity readers have to interact with content, the more time they spend with it, remember it, and are persuaded by it. The same goes for interactive technology, like robots and virtual systems, she says. Experiments reveal that humans are wired to accept and react to social cues as readily from objects as they are from people -- think Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa virtual assistants -- as long as they provide the same information as humans.

Jia also described how social media can affect the ability of readers to distinguish the quality and credibility of news sources. By disseminating information through their social networks, users themselves become sources of news -- including fake news, influencing the perceptions of those with whom they share content. She also notes that while social media algorithms deliver content tailored to readers’ interests, they also put readers at risk for the so called “echo chamber effect,” feeding them content that reinforces views and opinions they already favor.

During the question-and-answer session, Jia discussed the major shift in reading habits of younger generations in recent years. Studies find that readers under the age of 30 tend to get their news mostly from online sources, while those 65 and older get the majority of their news from newspapers and television. In addition, younger readers tend to make judgments based solely on headlines, favor images and video over text, and don’t read deeply into content, particularly dense text.

She also noted that while young people benefit from exposure to more information than previous generations, they are also challenged by the sheer volume of news at their fingertips. Education is the key to combatting this “cognitive overload,” she says, guiding readers in how to think more critically and make better judgments about the news and the reliability of its sources.

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