Redefining front-page news

By Eleanor Blick

In middle school, I was a forensics state finalist in the category of newscasting. We had to update our scripts and posters every week to reflect current news and weather. One year I was the weather girl; the next year I covered sports. Our call letters were our initials, naturally, and our slogan was “News You Can Use.” I have since switched from broadcast to print, but my knack for the news has some history, which is why I have always been confounded by reports of young people’s disenchantment with news media.

A study done by IBM’s Media and Entertainment Group showed a surprising decline in recent online news readership among people ages 18–24. In 2008, 64 percent of those surveyed said they read a newspaper online at least once in the past year. In 2009, only 54 percent had. Are young people currently reading the daily paper or watching the nightly news instead? All signs point to no.

As a journalism student surrounded by other journalism students, it’s hard for me to picture peers who have little to no interest in current events. Personally, I am embarrassed when a classmate or friend brings up a news topic I haven’t heard about. It makes me feel like I am uninformed or lazy, even though I’m apparently doing better than most.

But I do recognize reasons for my generation’s disconnect from the news. They are by no means excuses, but they are factors to consider in the ever-changing debacle of news production and distribution.

When I turned 18 and swiftly transitioned from a statistical “youth” to a statistical “young person,” I moved to Chicago, away from my parents. There was no longer a newspaper on the table every morning and no one flipping on the 5 o’clock newscast. I didn’t know the names in Chicago’s headlines, let alone which television channels were which. I’ve since become acquainted with the region’s

bigwigs, but will admit when it comes to my neighborhood’s lawmakers, I’m still mostly in the dark.

Unlike some of my nomadic peers, I remained in the same city for more than three years but have moved from neighborhood to neighborhood. It is difficult for young people to have connections with local issues when they don’t necessarily connect with a location. Until we settle down more permanently, this disconnect will remain.

Likewise, it is hard for young people in such an isolated country to relate to issues that aren’t taking place right outside their door. Perhaps this speaks to our notorious selfishness, but a friend’s Facebook status update can often have a more immediate or more emotional effect than a front-page article about troops half a world away. We haven’t become desensitized; our generation was born into it.

For some young adults, their friends’ lives are the news. They see it, feel it and relate to it. It is more personal than a congressional hearing on tax brackets that has little effect on most of our modest incomes. It’s more pertinent than foreign relations with other countries stemming from a terrorist attack most of us were too young to understand. Media companies have been pushing for hyper-local coverage of smaller communities, but in a sense, how much more hyper-local can you get than news delivered by friends?

It ultimately comes down to what young adults define as newsworthy.  Surveys and statistics define it as the traditional outlets we grew up with. But our generation is changing that definition. Young adults choose what they want to receive. Newspapers used to deliver the news, choosing what “news” was, but now we can pick our own front-page headlines.

Is it disheartening many of those headlines are more about friends and celebrities than current events? Yes. Will young adults eventually settle down and likely become more regular, responsible consumers of information that impacts society? Yes. Is our generation going to force the media industry to redefine itself? We’ve already begun.