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Investigative Journalism Class. Photo Courtesy of Northeastern.

Project Information Literacy (PIL), a nonprofit research institute, has launched a national study on how young adults consume news and gather information, and Northeastern University’s College of Arts, Media and Design (CAMD) is excited to have our faculty involved. The research, conducted in partnership with the faculty members here at Northeastern University, as well as from Wellesley College, will focus on two of the most pressing issues of what has been called our “post-truth” era: currency and authority.

As PIL explained in its recent press release, the report aims to break new ground as an empirical and quantitative study of many issues – including “fake news” and misinformation – to help facilitate meaningful public discourse and potential policy solutions. It will also formulate a set of recommendations for professionals directly implicated in addressing relevant problems, offering insights to three of the groups working with young adults on the front lines: librarians, journalists, and educators.

CAMD’s John Wihbey, School of Journalism, has been collaborating with Alison Head, the director of the study and an information scientist and a senior researcher at the metaLAB (at) Harvard, for years, and recently joined her advisory board. After writing a piece together, found here, surrounding some of the issues the study addresses, they decided to dive into the topics further and design a formal research project.

“We are hoping to give news outlets and journalists a stronger sense of how younger audiences process information, and how they understand notions of credibility and authority,” explained Wihbey, who is an Assistant Professor of Journalism and New Media. “We hope to provide some actionable recommendations for news design and audience engagement.”

Wihbey is helping with the research and survey design, as well as the interpretation of the data. He will also be conducting expert interviews once they collect the initial data, and he will co-author the final report alongside Head; Daniel J. Cohen, Dean of Libraries and Vice Provost for Information Collaboration at Northeastern; and Panagiotis “Takis” Metaxas, Professor of Computer Science at Wellesley.

“News and the role of media are at the center of a very urgent discussion that society is having right now about the future direction of our democracy,” Wihbey concluded. “We are collectively wondering how a big, diverse, increasingly fragmented public can maintain a baseline fabric of facts and context so rational policy making and deliberative democracy can be sustained. I hope our research can contribute to this discussion and perhaps better facilitate the dissemination of quality, engaging news for the next generation.”

The research is supported by funding from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, and the Association of College & Research Libraries (ACRL), the largest division of the American Library Association (ALA). The study, set to be concluded in fall 2018, will be one of the largest of its kind, with surveys and interviews on college campuses and other educational settings around the country.