Youth Are Now Self-Proclaimed ‘News Junkies’

By: Martha Irvine, AP National Writer

(AP) Not so long ago, 21-year-old Kate Larsen got her news on a need-to-know basis — and mostly she figured she didn’t need to know. Thirteen-year-old Max Freedman did keep track but often lost interest in coverage he thought was “stupid.”

Then terror struck Sept. 11. And they and a number of young Americans began taking an interest in the news as they never had before.

“I think the media blows a lot out of proportion, but this just blows everything away,” says Freedman, an eighth-grader from Sherman Oaks, Calif., who has been getting his news from National Public Radio, the Los Angeles Times, and television.

Larsen, who admits she once would have chosen “Scooby Doo” cartoons over the news, has become a loyal reader of The New York Times.

“My parents are very happy,” the sophomore at Centenary College in New Jersey says.

Ten-year-old Shelby Waite is skimming headlines between bites of cereal at the breakfast table.

“It’s interesting to know what’s happening and stuff like that,” says the Ohio fifth-grader, who reads The Columbus Dispatch to learn more about places and things she had never heard of before Sept. 11 — from Afghanistan to anthrax.

The sudden interest in all things related to the terror attacks has experts wondering if news organizations will be able to keep the attention of the young audience they have so often failed to engage.

Before the attacks, journalism professor David Mindich was working on a book tentatively titled “Tuned Out: Why Young People Don’t Consume Traditional News.”

“My book’s thesis is now a question mark,” says Mindich, chairman of the journalism department at Saint Michael’s College in Vermont. “I don’t know how it’s going to turn out.”

Some still are tuning out, among them Erin Pope, a 25-year-old Chicagoan who has already gotten fed up with the post-attacks coverage.

“They’re sensationalizing now. I think they’re just trying to scare people,” Pope, who works in a bookstore, says of the stories on anthrax.

A survey by the nonprofit Pew Research Center found that initially, 65% of those 30 and younger said they were following the attacks and related stories “very closely” — numbers that lagged behind those of other age groups. But by mid-October, the percentage among the under-30 crowd rose to 78%. That was the same rate among the 30-to-49 group.

The results are not surprising to 23-year-old Naomi Burdick, who has been tracking the story in The New York Times and other papers.

“My father’s generation — his story is Vietnam. My grandparents generation was WWII,” says Burdick, a senior at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Wash. “This is our story — something we’ll never forget.”

A survey by the ad agency Euro RSCG Worldwide found that TV has been the primary source of attacks news for 74% of those 18 to 34. More than 9% said radio; 6% Internet; and nearly 6% newspapers. In the 35-to-54 group, 81% said TV was their primary source; 7% radio; 5% newspapers; and 4% Internet.

Nielsen Media Research found that in the four weeks following Sept. 11, CNN had more viewers in the 18-to-34 range than MTV. MSNBC and the Fox News Channel also saw marked increases in that age category.

Statistics for those younger than 18, an age group not often tracked for news consumption, were not available.

“I don’t think this is a crisis or a conflict that’s going to quickly go away; it’s too complex,” says Howard Handler, chief executive of the Burly Bear Network, a cable network for college students. “And it’s changing the world that college students are living in and the world that they’re ultimately going to inhabit and lead.”

Already out of college — but one of many self-proclaimed new “news junkies” — Robin Christie Schultz agrees.

“If there’s not much going on, I’ll probably just go back to gossip and entertainment stuff,” the 26-year-old Mountainview, Calif., resident says. “But I don’t see that happening for a long time.”

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