Da Patronizing Press
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
Give young people credit — and give them real news.
By TRACY EVERBACH
Message to The Dallas Morning News and Fort Worth Star-Telegram: Young readers aren’t idiots. Take a look at the News’ daily tabloid, Quick, and the Star-Telegram’s Tuesday horizontal page so creatively titled “Whatever,” and you’d think that the issues most young people care about are celebrity gossip, reality tv, cell phones, and professional sports.
Elections in Ukraine? Who cares? It’s not in the United States.
Social Security? Like, I’m not old.
The war in Iraq? That’s so last year.
After teaching at four universities in the past six years, I have come to believe that young people want to know what’s happening in the world. Most of the students I teach are eager to talk about current events, politics, foreign policy, social issues, and even local government. But the editors in charge of these newspaper pages apparently think that the only thing teen-agers and young adults want to know about is Gwen Stefani’s makeup and Jennifer and Brad’s breakup.
Undoubtedly newspapers must find a way to reach people younger than 25. Dropping circulation figures and competition from 24-hour cable television news and the internet are threatening daily print media. Newspapers must do something to set themselves apart from the instant-gratification media crowd. But imitating “Extra” in print is not the way to do it.
Like any group all but ignored by the media, young people desire to read about people like themselves. Many are turned off because they rarely see newspapers report on children, teen-agers and young adults, unless they are kidnapped or killed or they’re Rhodes scholars who founded their own charity and raised a million dollars before age 15. Newspapers rarely run stories about the daily lives of high school and college students and issues that are important to them, from independent music, to ways to pay for college, to younger views on national politics. Approximately 21 million people aged 18 to 30 voted in the 2004 presidential election, according to The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at the University of Maryland. This does not suggest a group of people disengaged from important national issues.
Many students have told me that politics are extremely important to them, as are social issues like abortion and civil rights, and financial issues like credit and college loans.
“Young people are interested in politics — more so than [in] celebrities,” said Christine Stanley, 23, a University of North Texas journalism student. “The majority of the kids I meet could care less about who is dating who in Hollywood.”
One thing students have consistently told me is that they don’t want a bunch of middle-aged people who have no clue about what’s hip trying to tell them what’s cool. In a recent Editor & Publisher column, Brian Orloff, a 19-year-old journalism and English major at Northwestern University, said newspapers’ attempts to reach young people more often than not are perceived as “pandering.” Young readers “don’t need to be bombarded with painfully hip references or silly euphemisms,” he wrote.
And therein is the problem. As long as middle-aged white guys in khakis and button-down shirts who think “da bomb” is still a cool expression are making the decisions, newspapers aren’t going to reach young people in any meaningful ways. For example, “Whatever,” the Startlegram’s page targeted to teen-agers and children, is rife with gossip. “Ask Uptight Annie,” an advice column for teens, features such pressing problems as friends who talk behind one another’s backs. The rest of the page usually consists of celebrity photos and snippets about video games. Some recent issues of Quick — “a product of The Dallas Morning News,” as the cover says — show the editors’ perceptions of big news among young people include obnoxious sports figures, blockbuster movies, Top-40 music, and shopping. The product most often features a celebrity on the cover and page two is dominated by large photos of busty female celebrities showing lots of cleavage (wonder who chose those)? News, and that term is used lightly, doesn’t appear until the back pages, in the form of three- or four-paragraph Associated Press wire summaries. There’s no depth, no analysis, no explanation.
C’mon. Young people aren’t shallow. Many are concerned about issues like AIDS, the environment, poverty, war, unemployment, the economy, and voting.
As Stanley, the UNT journalism student, points out, it’s time for more newspapers to fill a void perceived by her generation — in-depth, investigative news. Her peers want, and need, more than colorful graphics and photos of hip-hop stars, she said: “Eventually people are going to get tired of tv and are going to want the full story.”
Tracy Everbach, a journalism professor at the University of North Texas in Denton, can be reached at TracyEverbach@hotmail.com.
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