Believe It or Not! Young Reader Defends Newspapers

By: Andrew Keshner Surveys, newspapers' financials, and anecdotal evidence show that relatively few people my age read the newspaper. To most of us, newspapers are simply quaint throwbacks to an era of the foxtrot, or VHS tapes. My generation has grown up in the information age, yet we've outgrown the original source of public information. We also watch The Daily Show more than the network news, we've made that show?s (very funny) spin-off book a best seller, and partisan blogs like Daily Kos and Eschaton at times have a combined readership greater than The Philadelphia Inquirer's.

The truth is, blogs and fake news have endeared themselves to my generation as newspapers and network news never have.

From editor to educator, this trend makes older generations nervous. If our republic rises and falls with the health of its free press, what does our changed media habits mean for the future of America? I remember a fine teacher once begging my college class to ?become addicted to the newspaper.? (We nodded politely, unconcerned with her concern.) And maybe her urgency was fueled by the same fire and brimstone that made her parents demand she turn down that ?rock and roll racket!? and listen to Sinatra instead.

But, I must admit, there was still legitimacy to that teacher's anxiety. There was -- and continues to be -- something worrisome in the way my generation doesn?t read the newspaper.

This newspaper crisis has everything to do with the fact that we consider ourselves maybe not the greatest but certainly the media-savviest generation. Living in the marketplace of ideas like no generation before, we know what we already like and how to get more of it. We each cobble together personas with some MP3s here and some cable shows there. We watch DVDs replete with special features, deleted scenes, and demystifying commentaries. Then, of course, there is the Chinese buffet that is the Internet: no single medium better demonstrates how we can carve and meld identities -- or market groups -- from a multitude of options and possibilities.

Armed with iPods, cell phones, and laptop computers, with entire industries catering to our whims and needs (which are also in many cases whims) we are a generation of painfully self-aware consumers, born to make informed choices and do it quickly.

But newspaper readership isn?t declining because the competing media happen to be more technologically advanced; newspaper readership is declining because we have deemed the medium itself -- often calm, dispassionate, and time-consuming with all its sections and space for hundreds of articles -- flawed and out of step with the way we live.

Right now, we believe there is no time and no need to read and then deliberate. Think how the iPod and Internet reaffirm tastes and notions rather than challenging them; how red/blue political thought is increasingly predictable; how many yoga play-dates are eating up our schedule.

Right now, it is becoming easier to get wrapped up in the seamless lifestyle and political views of our choosing and never consider the alternatives. To read the newspaper, to wade through the swamp of stats, context, and conflicting ideas, to tempt confusion and hesitation, well -- that is not an option for the savvy-minded.

Rather, we use blogs and fake news as an efficient way of staying somewhat informed and, at the same time, envisioning the world. The winks, nods, and ALL CAPS denunciations are fast becoming guides and shortcuts in a contentious, jumbled world with too many other things to do.

Call me a stodgy traitor to my generation, but this growing demand for blatant cues of interpretation is worrisome.

To be sure, blogs can be intelligent and valuably irreverent tributes to free speech, just as newspapers can be cruel and poorly written. Nonetheless, when we mouth whatever Jon Stewart says just because he said it -- and when we don?t vote despite all the VOTE 4 YOUR LIFE advertising campaigns -- our savviness proves thin and self-defeating, like a 14-year-old's first moustache.

We may yet grow into a fuller definition of the term (I sincerely hope so), but right now our "savvy" is merely a pacifying abbreviation of intellect, a mindset celebrating commercialized rebellions like the X Games while, meanwhile, college costs skyrocket, a Social Security debate over our future rages, and our generation gets shipped and re-shipped to Iraq.

Perhaps there?s something in the newspapers after all: different voices, new ideas, something to help us figure out where to go from here -- even if it means logging off for a few minutes each day. At the very least, we can listen to our iPods and read at the same time.


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