Saturday, August 8, 2009

Forget the generation gap. It's a chasm.

I like to think I understand the younger generation. It's probably a delusion, but I do pay attention to what kids are doing and saying, not just so they're credible in my books, but because they're interesting.

For a very long time, I've heard people talk about a generation gap, and I thought I understood that, too. Every generation has its differences in music and pop culture, even to some degree in its value system and political beliefs. Now, however, it seems the gap has widened into a chasm when it comes to how we get our news, assuming we pay attention at all.

For a news junkie like me, who worked for several newspapers, covered television and network news for daily papers in Ohio and Florida, it was tough enough when I realized that more people were getting their insights into the world from two-minute (or less) reports on the evening news than from the in-depth reporting in a morning paper. Journalists of my era even jokingly referred to USA Today as being the McDonald's of the news business, offering bite-size, fast-serve bits of news. These days I'd be grateful if more people were even getting that much from a newspaper.

Instead, it seems the thump of the morning paper on the front lawn has been exchanged for flipping a switch on the computer and glancing at headlines en route to emails. Way too many people, it seems to me, are getting their "news" from blogs, which often have far more opinions than facts.

It's said that newspapers will eventually vanish unless they find a way to reinvent themselves. Young people don't care about them and too many in my generation distrust them. How sad, and frightening. Freedom of the press was included in the Constitution for a reason. A free society needs a free press to keep a watch on the world, to be alert to the insidious corruption that goes on far too often, to keep politicians in check, to remind us of the sacrifices of war and to take note of those who die to protect us.

Some would say the Internet now fills that role. I suppose some news-affiliated sites do, but I wager if you ask a dozen people whether they got their information from a journalist or a blogger with a personal bias, far too many would list the bloggers without even realizing -- or caring --what a difference there is.

Beyond that, the oldtimer in me wants a newspaper in my hands each morning, much as I want an actual book in my hands when I'm reading on the porch in the afternoon. I want to flip from news to sports to Sudoku. I want to check the movie listings and the stock reports, all in one convenient place that doesn't involve staring at a computer screen, which I have to do for far too much of each day. Kids, however, have grown up with a computer mouse all but attached to the end of their arm. It's as much second nature to them as breathing.

There's also the allure for some that it's all free online. There's no payment for a subscription or dropping $6 for the Sunday New York Times at Starbucks. What a rude awakening it will be when sites start charging for content, as Fox News announced it would just this week. If other news sites follow suit, then I suspect young people with a penchant for "free" will spend even less time on news sites and turn more to blogs.

Perhaps this shouldn't worry me as much as it does. After all, I am a blogger. And even though I am a journalist as well and check my facts carefully, this is, after all, my opinion. It's not hard news. And the difference is monumental and important.

Sherryl

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