On my first day of Journalism 101 at Temple back in 2007, my professor posed a simple question to the class: “Who here reads the news?” Out of a lecture class of about 100 students, a smattering of hands—maybe 30 or less—went up, many of which appeared to waver in confidence visibly. An entire room full of people who supposedly want to report, produce and write tomorrow’s headlines, and less than half even participate in the news cycle as it is. I knew then that us millennials were pretty well screwed. After all, if my fellow future journalists didn’t care about being informed, who my age did?
So, given that incident, you’ll have to forgive my lack of surprise at journalism professor Paula Poindexter’s recent research revealing that my generation couldn’t care much less about keeping up with the news. Coming out of the University of Texas at Austin, Poindexter’s national study concluded that a majority of millennials don’t think that being informed is important and don’t see the relevance of news in their daily lives. Our attitude towards the media apparently goes beyond apathy, though, with many people my age calling media “garbage,” “propaganda” and “lies.” I can’t say I disagree there—well, for the most part, anyway.
Since its debut, Poindexter’s study has garnered quite a bit of outrage from my fellow newshounds—however few and far between they are—in the comment sections of wherever the story is posted. Most millennials manage to call bullshit without too much vitriol, saying that they’ve abandoned the evil, crumbling, malodorous old media guards because those outlets disparage millennials and pander to popular opinion instead of seeking facts. Instead, they say, my generation looks towards the shining digital embrace of the internet.
But if we’re to believe the Pew Research Center’s numbers from 2010, then millennials’ lack of interest in news isn’t just being applied to the traditional newsmakers. According to the Pew’s Millennials study, 65 percent of my generation gets their news mainly from TV, while another 24 percent say their main news source is newspapers, and still another faction of 18 percent claims radio as their primary informer. Sure, something like 59 percent of millennials get most of their news from the internet, but the old media definitely isn’t dead yet. People my age are still using those outlets, and others, but it would appear that we’re not taking part generally.
Take, for example, last week’s attack on the US consulate in Libya that resulted in the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens. As Esquire recently pointed out, that event essentially amounts to the Spartans killing a group of Persian messengers from 300—in short, an incredibly shocking international event with explosive potential. Mentions of that event were almost completely absent from my Facebook feed, acquaintances on Twitter didn’t tweet it, and when I tried to actually talk to friends about the attack’s implications, I often ended up being the informer. It was almost like that horrible attack never happened.
But, then again, most people didn’t even care about the bomb threat at Boeing that same day, and that was essentially right next door. Conversely, though, I recall my feed a-buzzing with news about Chris Brown’s awful new tattoo.
Perhaps this speaks most to the news disconnect for millennials: We’re the most connected, but the least concerned, looking primarily for immediate gratification to our entertainment desires. The Libya attack, the Boeing bomb threat, these things seem to have no immediate context to my generation at large—no intrinsic value to our hyper-focused, highly customized worldview. The Chris Brown story is much less ambiguous: laugh about it, maybe rebuke the guy, and move on to the next piece. We’re switched off, a generation adrift in cyberspace, unaware of how to draw any real personal meaning from events that happened thousands of miles away.
Frankly, my generation’s news priorities do appear to be fundamentally different from other other age groups’ priorities, especially given our main generational distinction: our widespread, obsessive use of technology, usually not for the loftiest purposes. Often that use is in the pursuit of seeing what our high school friends are up to, or what Reddit has to say about cats today, or updating that fantasy football squad, constantly feeding our own electronically customized worldviews without much interest in expanding them. However, it can’t be denied that young people are traditionally not concerned with international events. So in that sense, what we’re seeing today is millennial technology employed to play a young person’s game.
I just hope we can grow out of it.