When news is not news

The statistic’s even starker for certain age groups: 31 percent of people ages 18-24 get no news on an average day, and 22 percent of 30-34-year-olds get none either.

Nearly one in three people 18-24 years old get no news? That’s a factoid that sends shivers down not only the spines of journalists but also anyone who cares about civic life.

That quote in italics is from Poynter’s report on a slideshow prepared by Lee Rainie of Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project. (It isn’t on the Pew site, and it’s dangerous to draw conclusions from slide from a survey with no attached methodology, but here we go.)

My first thought was that it is just deserts for a news media that identifies the top story of the morning a woman who doesn’t have monkeypox, as the news channels did yesterday. (Hey, I don’t have monkeypox either! Put me on TV!) Or the second big story of the day, a missing child in Tucson. Neither story makes a difference in the lives of more than a few hundred people. These are the empty calories that the national networks call news. A man catches a baseball at a game and doesn’t give it to the crying three-year-old next to him? The 18-24 year-old age group isn’t stupid. They see this stuff and know it’s not news to them.

We’ve turned the definition of news into mush. That said, I don’t believe the statistic.

The 18-24 year-old age group is the “if-the-news-is-that-important-it-will-find-me” generation. Those folks are on Facebook. They get news every time they log on. Their friends tell them the news in their worlds. (And for you not on Facebook, don’t think that they talk about what they had for breakfast.) Ths generation doesn’t immediately call it news the way we old-timers do, but when they watch, say, the president slow jammin’ the news, it is news. When they see the “Trending Articles” foisted upon them by Facebook, that’s news. (Well, some of them are.)

But if you ask them where they get news, the answer is Google and Yahoo and Jon Stewart and Huffington Post. It’s rarely actual, traditional, mainstream news organizations. The news may originate there, but they don’t identify those as the sources. And that’s one of the problems with using the generic term “news” in a survey.

I teach a class of 33 people in that age group. Because they are in college, perhaps they aren’t typical. (For the record, 68% of high school graduates last year went to college.) They are informed. They know what is happening in the world. Many of them say they get their news from friends. Ask them the news source, they say Facebook. But do they call Kony 2012 or Laurelynn Dossett and Friends singing about opposition to Amendment One news? No. But that’s what I call it.

News is being redefined — by news organizations that sensationalize and pander. By aggregation that blurs the original source of information. By a public that has lost trust in traditional news organizations. That’s not bad necessarily, but it is important that we understand what’s going on when we talk about things like this. And to say that nearly a third of the population between 18-24 get no news on any given day? Unbelievable.

Punctuation matters

In my Elon class today, I wanted to make the point that punctuation is important in their papers. I wrote the following sentence on the board and asked someone, anyone, to come up to the board and punctuate it.

“Woman without her man is nothing.”

The first tried to rewrite the sentence. I said, no, the words are correct, just punctuate it. The second punctuated it correctly, with commas after woman and man.

I said, yes, and there is a second way that is also correct. Try again.

The third person came up and tried to rewrite the sentence. The fourth punctuated it correctly. “Woman: without her, man is nothing.” A fifth came up and tried to rewrite the sentence again.

God is having fun with me; I’m blessed with a classful of editors! My former staff will appreciate the irony.

Write my bio

My first assignment to my communications class at Elon is to write a bio of me.

I want to see how resourceful they are and if they can write. I didn’t give them much to go on. Gave them my name and alluded to being the editor of the News & Record. That’s pretty much it. It shouldn’t be too hard — after all, I’m Googleable. (I also told them that if they simply rewrite the bio on this page and on others, they’ll be lucky to get a C.)

In case any of them stumble on this site, let’s help them out. Leave some information about me in the comments. (Yes, I know I’m asking for it. I told them the bios have to be accurate — there is some inaccurate stuff floating around out there — so don’t make it too hard on them.)




Five years later: “If the news is that important, it will find me.”

I asked my communication class, made up of primarily freshmen and sophomores, what their news and information sources are.

The top three answers were Facebook, Twitter and “people I know.” (The New York Times, which is distributed free in the communications building, was the first mainstream news source listed.)

This isn’t surprising to many journalists who have been paying attention.  From the New York Times in March 2007: Ms. Buckingham recalled conducting a focus group where one of her subjects, a college student, said, “If the news is that important, it will find me.”

Problem is, I get the idea that enough journalists aren’t paying attention.

Five years later, many editors and publishers aren’t on Facebook or Twitter. Of those who are, many don’t engage with people beyond promoting stories in their own publications. I should also include television here, too. Only a few of the 33 students mentioned getting news or information from broadcast news. (Their websites got decent numbers, though.)

Though they didn’t use this language, the students essentially described Facebook and Twitter as their own personal news sources — news sources they designed comprised of people they knew and trusted giving them information about both their personal lives  and the broader world.

The point? If journalists want to survive — to say nothing of flourish today — they must be part of the conversation of this generation of budding thinkers and news creators and consumers. They need to evaluate all the tools that Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc. offer and figure out what works for them.