Getting the news

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Nov. 19, 2009

Dear Leslie,

Each week my Writing for the Mass Media class takes a current-events quiz, 10 questions about local, state and world events. Students who aim to become media writers begin by knowing what's going on in the world around them, I reason. Reading, watching and listening to how the news is reported also is a way of learning to do it yourself.

My wish also is to inculcate a new habit in those students who might not have been paying attention to the news. Each week the quiz reminds me that most of my students pay attention in ways the media are struggling to match.

A new study of American adults found that 74 percent read a print or online newspaper regularly. A different study of young adults found that 31 percent regularly read a print newspaper. But these studies don't tell us how they read and which stories they read. I used to read every story in the newspaper. Does anyone do that anymore? I don't.

This most tuned-in generation chooses its information differently because there is so much to choose from. The rest of us are catching up.

Asked to tell us about her favorite news website, one my students showed us around Reality Sandwich. Its slogan "Evolving consciousness bite by bite," the site offers information about ecology, psychology, technology and the arts. I recognized the names of three contributors: Stanley Grof, Sharon Gannon and Daniel Pinchbeck, all leading-edge thinkers.

Two students with sports-reporting ambitions chose the ESPN site as their favorite. One student picked "The Onion" and its pure satire of the news. A Japanese student chose a Japanese site that has the same social functions as Facebook but also provides news.

With millions of information choices, these students seek out sites with the information they care most about.

Some basics of citizenship may be getting lost in this process of sifting through the glut of information. None of my students knew who the mayor of Cape Girardeau is. "But I don't live here," one protested. You live here eight hours of most every day, I reasoned.

One question in this week's quiz asked the whereabouts of President Obama. A couple of students knew he was in China.

Maybe college sophomores are naturally oblivious to any news that doesn't affect them directly and begin emerging from the cocoon once the realities of leaving college begin to present themselves. But something else may be going on, a point of view that challenges the abilities of the very media these students are training to join.

In a survey of Millennials, one may have summed up his generation's attitude toward the news. If the information is important it will find me, he told an interviewer.

Love, Sam

Sam Blackwell is a former reporter for the Southeast Missourian.

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