By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Young people and the news

My latest for CommonWealth Magazine takes a look at the disconnect between young people and the news. Among the folks I interviewed was veteran television journalist Judy Woodruff, now with PBS. Earlier this year Woodruff hosted an hour-long report called “Generation Next,” which examined the lives of people between the ages of 16 and 25. Here’s part of what she told me:

Much of the news young people see is not presented in a way that’s relevant to them. It’s presented in a way that makes sense to people who are older, who know what Medicaid Part B is, or who know what the Kyoto Accord is, or McCain-Feingold. There’s a lot of jargon in the news, and there’s an adult framing of the news, if you will….

I think we need to put ourselves in their shoes. I’m not at all saying we should dumb stories down, because young people today are smart. They’re better educated than any generation that preceded them. But we need to find out what they’re interested in and address the news to them. They’re young. They’re not at a stage in their lives where they own property and are home by 6 or 6:30 at night.

My bottom line: News organizations need to move more quickly in embracing technologies such as interactivity, sharing and social networking. But young people have an obligation to start paying attention to the world around them, too.

If you read the article, you’ll come across a note on how difficult it is to measure the number of people who visit a Web site. The specific example I cite is, whose internal numbers show more than three times as many visitors as those counted by Nielsen/NetRatings — a disparity that is not at all unusual.

On Sunday, the New York Times ran an article that explains all, sort of. The most startling assertion, given how important the Web is to the future of the faltering news business, is this: “[T]he growth of online advertising is being stunted, industry executives say, because nobody can get the basic visitor counts straight.” Wow.

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  1. BosPhotog

    Like maybe if they like put down their I-pods for more than, like, a second maybe they can actually read something. Oh yeah, that would mean facebook or myspace etc….OUCH!

  2. Peter Porcupine

    My adult children read the paper. Usually mine, but sometimes they buy a Herald and read it at work. i think it’s because they grew up with papers in the house – but short of a way-back machine, I’m not sure how THAT can be fixed.

  3. Kevin W.

    First, in the interest of full disclosure, I used to work with Dan’s wife at the dearly departed Beverly Times …I think there are a number of issues here, and they start not with the Generation Next, but with my generation (I just turned 40). We came of age with MTV, and we followed the fall of the Berlin Wall, the first Gulf War, and OJ not through daily newspaper feeds, but by watching CNN. Like your student you mention in the article Dan, I too was a news junkie while working as a print journalist. But now go directly to the web for my news consumption. Ask many who grew up journalistically with Atex terminals what the coolest thing was about being in a newsroom and they’ll tell you it was the AP feed. Instantaneously, you could get updates on breaking news, or “become your own editor” by selecting for yourself what you wanted to read, even saving those stories to a queue to read later. It was an Internet-esque experience, and it was how I got most of my national/international information when working on Dunham Road.My oldest child has absolutely no interest in reading baseball box scores like I did at his age. He’ll log on to Yahoo and check standings, stats and his fantasy lineup online well before he’ll open up the sports page — which contains news he generally read hours ago.I think you’re right on target with what print newspapers need to do in a Web 2.0 world. Those that don’t react and, which the Beverly Times’ successor, the Salem News and other Eagle-Trib papers do NOT seem to understand, is that automated content generators, subscriber-only content, and barely updated blogs, only further to lessen their relevance not just for Generation Next, but for many generations.Where will this lead? I think there will always be a place to see pics of soccer games, honor rolls, and birth/wedding/death announcements. But I believe that I will get blank looks when I tell my grandchildren I once worked for a small daily newspaper.

  4. another face at zanzibar

    Kids today! I tell ya.

  5. Anonymous

    The ballgame is over. And please don’t tell me about the hyper-local paradigm. That’s not going to work either. I’ve got a kid who doesn’t even watch network TV anymore, nevermind the evening news. Over!

  6. jamesgarnerisgod

    It’s no wonder the audience for newspapers, as well as network TV news, has shrunk, when so much news space/airtime is devoted to either infotainment or shilling for entertainment web content/programming. If I’m reading a newspaper, don’t punish me by urging me to put the paper down and log on to your Web site, or someone else’s. Similarly, when I’m watching 7 News on Channel 56 (there’s got to be a better marketing/naming concept, right?), don’t use your news time to flog some CW56 “reality” show. Or, if I’m catching Butch Stearns on Fox 25, why infuriate me by — instead of rewarding my viewership by telling me what you think about a sports topic — urging me to read your furschlugginger blog?!? If I’m watching your broadcast or reading your paper, don’t treat me like a bitch and try to up-sell me like an ambitious fast-food “expediter” asking me if I want to SuperSize my fries. There are more than enough salespeople in this world.

  7. Anonymous

    Dan, I agree with what you said. But the nut is something deeper than how the news is transmitted, and it’s something that hasn’t changed in decades. As my first editor (and a very old guy 25 years ago) said, people want to see/read about themselves. A good writer can make McCain-Feingold read like the navel-gazing stuff our kids like to read. It doesn’t have to read like a dry dissertation on something archaic. Is that dumbing down or making news more pertinent? Only when people associate reading news (whether print or online) with adding value to their lives will they stick with it or pay for it.

  8. Anonymous

    It’s time to stop blaming “Generation Next” for the problems the older generation has created. What’s relevant to old people is not relevant to us. Thanks to baby boomers’ leadership, we can’t afford housing, don’t have job security or pensions and our wages are stagnant. We are paying dearly for our education, which is substantially more costly than your education. Due to those factors, the typical baby boomers’ lifestyle is financially inaccessible to the average member of Generation Next. Therefore, our priorities and lifestyles are not the same. Young people don’t read local newspapers, because the old editors have made the paper little more than a newsletter for town officials. Ugh. What apartment-dwelling young person cares about zoning boards or planning boards or conservation committees?And sorry, but the “trend” stories in most newspapers are little more than rewrites of blog posts. Blogs are free and immediate. Why would a young person pay for or read a newspaper that contains stale stories written for an older generation?Since TV news and Internet have beaten newspapers in the breaking news arena, what’s the point in buying a newspaper at 8 a.m. on a Tuesday that says “Bridge collapse in Minneapolis”? Uh, we already knew that happened at 5 p.m. on Monday. Young people are not dumb. What we are craving is context and analysis. We have heard the words Kyoto Accord and McCain-Feingold and Medicaid. But how does it affect our daily lives and future world events? The best example of context and analysis is the sports media, which is years ahead of the fuddy-duddy news media. Sports media provide the details of the game and what went right and wrong and what it means for the next game. Why can’t the news media do the same?It’s time to live in the now, old people.

  9. Carri Craver

    That is the great thing about new media. There is enough to go around. People can consume only that which is relevant to them. Why change what exists on traditional TV and in newspapers? People know what they will get there. If they don’t want that, they go elsewhere. And as that number grows, what we really need is an easy way to find what interests us most. With directories listing thousands of blogs and podcasts, this is where we really need change. And there are starting to be products that address this issue like My Media DJ.

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