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By Steve Kelman

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The new generation and the media -- curiouser and curiouser

Okay, I am fully aware that I am a media dinosaur. I have hard copies of The New York Times and The Financial Times home delivered each morning. I get hard copy subscriptions to The Economist and Business Week. Frankly, my major online news source is fcw.com, although I have recently started finding myself clicking through to maybe 5 or 10 links a week from Facebook friends that I see on my status update page.

But in viewing the media habits of young people who are interested in following the news (such as my students), I have assumed that few if any of them would read the hard copy of a newspaper, but that instead they would "read" a paper (such as The New York Times) online – probably not as carefully as somebody reads a hard copy paper, but more like skimming headlines. They would probably read some blogs. And now more and more they would be getting news by clicking to Facebook links.

Well, I had an interesting conversation at dinner with a Public Policy Fellow at LMI, the non-profit consulting company that works on improving government management, on whose Board of Directors I sit. LMI has about five such fellows a year, newly minted grads of public administration and public policy programs. I can't remember exactly how we got on the topic, but we got into a conversation about how he gets his news, which he said was common among people his age who like to follow current affairs.

The most-surprising part of the conversation was that although he follows current affairs very closely, basically he didn't look at a daily newspaper, even online, at all. He regarded the expression "read a newspaper" as a phrase belonging to his parents' generation, and indeed the very word "newspaper" seemed old-fashioned to him. Instead, he checks through 15 to 25 different blogs in the course of a day, to get different views and insights about what's going on in the world. Sources such as CNN.com, the Times or Post were not more credible for him than the sum of the blogs he reads. Interestingly, he kept using words like "opinion" and "point of view" to describe what he was looking for, rather than words such as "reporting" or "analysis" that I (and I suspect many of those in my generation who follow the news) would tend to use to describe what I am looking for.

After the dinner, I spoke with another board member about my conversation. She reported recently asking students in a course (at a Washington, D.C.-area university) to prepare material from the media comparing U.S. departures from Iraq and Afghanistan. Apparently, The Washington Post had run an article (or articles) on exactly this topic only a short time before -- yet none of the students used the Post as one of their media sources.

BTW, my conversation partner said he didn't use Facebook status update links very much as a source of news. However, when I mentioned that I had started using it a lot he smiled (in a nice way), indicating that for him "didn't use very much" translated to far more than my pathetic 5 to 10 times.

Posted on Feb 10, 2012 at 12:09 PM


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Reader comments

Mon, Feb 13, 2012

Kelman seems to think that "reporting" or "analysis" from The New York Times is much different from "opinion". Unfortunately, it is often not and is only presented as factual reporting. Online you can get many of the stories presented from different viewpoints which makes it much easier to see that some of that "reporting" and "analysis" is more opinion than reality.

Sat, Feb 11, 2012 Jeff Myers Washington

To call a spade a spade - this seems like a problem. If lots of voting citizens don't distinguish between professionally gathered facts and unedited opinion blogs, we will have an electorate that isn't very well grounded in reality. (Maybe we already do.) Isn't this the core of why our country decided to publicly fund K-12 education - so we have voters well-enough qualified to participate in a democracy? Thus, as a taxpayer funding K-12 education, maybe I should expect our schools to more starkly encourage a focus on reporting of facts, and to discount opinions as a data source when drawing conclusions. Do you think it's fair to foist this expectation on schools? If so, it might mean a shift in curriculum to address the issue. (Personally, I prefer hard-copy paper, but I do read traditional newspapers online as well.)

Sat, Feb 11, 2012 Alec Rogers United States

I subscribe to the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post and the Economist, but I think that the Internet has rendered such media obsolete. In today's world, I don't need to read the inferior business coverage of one paper to get the political coverage, etc but rather can clip from a wide variety of papers, newssites, blogs, etc so that whatever I'm reading is written by an authoritative expert (i.e. no longer do I need to take my commentary from the paper's ex-theater critic to use but one notable example).

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