Why younger people don’t read the newspaper

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A girl holds The Washington Post of Monday, Ju...

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Three things happened within the last week or so that led me to write this post.

  1. The New York Times website alerted me that I had only 4 articles left to read until I was kicked out behind the pay wall for the rest of the month.
  2. The PIPA and SOPA legislations attracted a lot of attention at the hands of Google, Wikipedia, and others, if only momentary, for internet freedom.
  3. My autumn 2011 copy of Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly arrived in the mail and includes an article about why young people have stopped reading the newspaper.

The bulk of this post will focus on a review of that article in the spirit of looking at journalism and mass communication through eyes seeking its advancement rather than its demise. For all the scholars out there, this is the article to which I’m referring:

Zerba, A. (2011). Young adults’ reasons behind avoidances of daily print newspapers and their ideas for change. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly 88(3), 597-614.

What initially sets this study apart from others is its qualitative nature. Zerba sites several studies that addressed the phenomenon of, as she terms them, “nonuses,” from a uses and gratifications (U & G) approach. Because both U & G research and studies of newspaper use and nonuse have been rather prevalent since the advent of journalism research, the focus group method employed is able to better unpack in detail the nonuse findings of other generations. These include lack of time; availability of other media choices; access; and possible bias, to name a few. As the author states, she aims “to get at the underlying meaning of nonuse” (p. 597).

Possibly of greater importance, focus groups enable the researcher to capture a small slice of one of the primary news-reading audiences highly affected by the current shift from print to digital. And in an age where the internet has become a concept of legal upheaval, a study of print media is extremely relevant.

Zerba puts forth two research questions:

  1. What are the most popular reasons for not using a daily newspaper?
  2. What would your ideal print newspaper include?

Focus groups were formed using research companies in three major cities – Chicago, San Antonio, and Dallas. Sixty four adults between the ages of 18 and 29 were assembled in total (an error in San Antonio resulted in eight groups for evaluation, rather than the anticipated six). The discussions had among the groups revealed results that were both predictable based on previous research and worthy of reflection with respect to today’s somewhat tumultuous media environment.

In sum, adults 29 and under viewed newspapers as

  1. Difficult and inconvenient to access and use
  2. Environmentally unfriendly
  3. Slow to report the news and redundant
  4. Difficult to multitask with
  5. Drag on one’s time
  6. Irrelevant to the age group
  7. Boring
  8. Biased

When given the opportunity to design their own daily print newspaper, respondents decided that the perfect paper would be:

  1. Brief with only the fact
  2. Local in focus
  3. Inclusive of diverse perspectives
  4. Simply formatted and aesthetically pleasing with color, pictures, and a table of contents
  5. Easily accessible
  6. More entertainment content
  7. Topically specialized
  8. With slightly less negative news and summation of leading news items
Front page of the first issue of The New York ...

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In sum, young people want a newspaper that is easily accessible and up-to-date, aesthetically pleasing, and convenient for their multitask, on-the-go lifestyles. In essence, young people want the internet.

In today’s world, to describe why people choose not to use a newspaper, even though they call themselves news aficionados, is to describe why people do use the internet. The real question for practitioners in the news world coming out of this study might not be, “How can we make our print product more accessible to the younger demographic of readers,” but, “How can we make our online product more accessible to everyone?”

Look at the New York Times online. It doesn’t look all that different from the company’s print product. Look at the Washington Post online. Stunning images, fonts, headlines, and masthead all there. Purchase digital subscriptions and customize your own news on your mobile device.

The only way for a print enterprise to save its print product from extinction is to dramatically change the content offered through its online medium. This is why I am in favor of paywalls, especially when a particular newspaper, say a local one, does not have the human resources to produce new electronic content that will add value to its overall product.

I love this article because of its methodology and because of what it says about individuals of my age. I like to live in my bubble and believe that most people are like me. But they are not. And my close-minded perspective is selfish and unjustified. This does not, however, stop me from hoping that a more literate cohort of twentysomethings will rise up and work as hard to “save” journalism as the generations before us did to build it.

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An old and a new

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I read a fun blog post from the folks at Wired two weeks ago about the capitalization of the word, “internet.” AP Style dictates that you ought to capitalize the word, but others across the globe have done away with this rule.

Why? Because it’s too commonplace to warrant the same status as other proper nouns, like “Web site”.

Actually, “web” and “net” go lower in Wired‘s case.

This caused me to think about things that still exist, regardless of their anachronistic style, as well as things that have not yet been invented, but may not be far off.

The one “old” thing that literally appeared into my line of sight this evening is the picture located to the right. If, for whatever reason, you’re unable to view the photo, it is an icon of a floppy disk. By clicking this icon, you can save a search, journal article, or citation from the online database I’m surfing. What’s funny is that I haven’t owned a computer in the past six years that even has a way to process these things, and yet they are still an iconic representation of what we have all learned is the process of saving something electronically.

It would be interesting if the databases and online spaces that used this image replaced it with something more modern, say, a picture of a cloud? It would make logical sense, but would it get the message across?

My “new” thought for the day deals with social media. I was watching one of my authors on television two weeks ago and realized that, no matter how much I tweeted or shared on Facebook the link to the Book TV website advertising the show, I could not make people watch the show, nor could I make it any easier for them to do so. Someone without access to a television, or one they can control, might get frustrated that I keep sharing non-television content about a live television show. This could even foster negative will toward me.

The technology already exists, based on your television service provider, to program your television to record specific shows without ever having to be in front of your television. I predict that this technology will develop to the point where even the lesser-known providers make available recording apps for DVR subscribers. When this technology is finally adopted by a chunk of the population, the wise entrepreneur will design a social app that allows individuals to share television content, offer people the option to record the content directly from their device, and even interact with the programming – among peers.

In the same way I find out about dozens of new pieces of content each day through the social web – that is, content I would not have discovered otherwise – so to will people be able to watch television they may never have known existed. This could mean great user engagement with television (seen until recently as a one-way medium), the lessening importance of the television schedule, and even the demise of primetime television.

Net neutrality needs public help

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Normally, I’m interested in all things technology, but with the holidays in full swing I’ve not kept up with the happenings concerning net neutrality, having now become thoroughly confused.

The relevance of that conversation was renewed in an article written in The Economist, which may perhaps say more about the need to read fewer American publications in order to actually understand American goings-on. Have a read here at where America stands in Internet functionality:

But all the bickering misses the wider point. Having led the world in internet access, America has slipped over the past decade to 22nd (behind Latvia and the Czech Republic) with an average download speed of a mere 3.8 megabits per second (Mbps) compared with South Korea’s average of 14.6Mbps. Worse, Americans pay through the nose for their high-speed access. According to the New America Foundation, a 100Mbps internet connection costs $16 a month in Sweden and $24 a month in South Korea. In high-price Japan, 160Mbps can be had for $65 a month. Thanks to the lack of competition, Americans have to stump up $145 a month for 50Mbps—less than a third the Japanese internet speed for over twice the price. By any measure, that is a terrible deal.

So, I suppose that sooner or later all the figures about how America isn’t number 1 will wake someone up out there.

Life in the fast lane: Immediate gratification

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Take a look at this quote from Discoblog’s RSS feed:

new research suggests that ‘we are how we eat’ and that the mere thought of fast food can result in general impatience. Researchers from the University of Toronto conducted a series of experiments in which they showed volunteers logos from several fast-food chains or asked them to recall the last time they’d visited, writes Scientific American. And they found that folks who had thought about fast food would then read faster, even though no one told them to hurry.

There were also a number of other findings present in this study linked with the need for convenience and speed. I wonder, though, what the findings of a similar study might be if researchers substituted fast food with Internet technology and the personal devices capable of utilizing high-speed Wi-Fi. Maybe a study already exists, but what if researchers compared groups of individuals who had access to iPhones, for example, and those who did not and then asked them to access a specific bit of information without the aid of an iPhone.

I have a feeling that iPhone users might get stressed out quicker. But, until the study comes out, I’ll continue to assume that the constant need for ease-of-access in our country is turning us into stressed-out work-aholics who value technology over, well, everything.

The point of blog comments

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Even though I began this blog for a class a number of months ago, it’s become creepily obvious to me that my writing is influenced by the little statistics graph produced by WordPress to report the number of views my blog receives. Generally, if I write about something extremely timely, such as my post about the Scientology controversies, and to a lesser extent my original post about the social justice forces that could arise from e-book technology, the blog receives a lot of views. Anything else usually gets a consistently low number of pages views.

The same pattern also follows with respect to blog comments. “Important” blogs receive comments. The trouble is, I think everything I write is important. Additionally, I think my humor is humorous and my prose flows. Unfortunatley, this may not be the case, and I may simply be “inviting you to join me on the bandwagon of my own uncertainty,” as Taylor Mali says it.

Certainly, I can’t have the fame and glory of which I recently lamented in a prior post about the film Julie & Julia. This being true, I believe that what I’m noticing about blog comments is that they’re not celebrations of my social prowess, but rather a forum of sorts for interested parties to debate their views and, in some way, facilitate the great conversation.

Based on some of the comments I’ve read and critiqued here on this blog, the general Internet-commenting public may not possess the most life enriching knowledge. I am therefore forced to believe that (1) if comment sections on blogs and news Web sites are supposed to facilitate conversation, and (2) if those conversing are highly unintelligent, then this blog is running quite smoothly. The comments posted here are intelligent, and I truly enjoy reading them. For those of you who read, thank you. My hope is that the conversations you’re engaged in are the kind well worth your time.

Once created, now mediated

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This week, I came across two very interesting articles. My professor sent me the link to this article on Poynter’s website that talks about the increase in plagiarism alongside Internet popularity. The article’s author, Kelly McBride, tells readers that while we may all have thought Stephen Glass was the end-all be-all of newspaper plagiarism, two recent events have once again marred the status of ethical journalism. The second article popped up in my RSS feed from my favorite blog, The Scholarly Kitchen. It’s a review of You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto, a new book by Jaron Lanier.

If you noticed that the number of links in the preceding paragraph was more than most of my other blog posts, it’s because I am frightened by the two-pronged message inherent in each post.

While making this link is a bit of a stretch, both articles show one of the primary dangers of an Internet society to be its universality. From an ethical perspective, it’s far too easy to steal content from other sources because most people know that no one is checking their facts anymore. From a deterministic perspective, we’ve placed so much of a burden on technology to do just about anything that we’ve begun to sacrifice some of our own selves in the process.  What we’ve created, Kent Anderson (the Scholarly Kitchen blogger) remarks, is an incredibly open culture:

Lanier’s most damning points revolve around what he calls “open culture” — the movement spurred by advocates of open access, open standards, open data, open, open, open. While it all sounds good, what it’s actually created is an amoral world in which consequences aren’t considered, the victims are blamed, technical solutions are thought to be better than common sense, creativity has been stifled, commerce is abandoned, and gee-whiz wonderment conceals deeply cynical plays by scheming companies.

The second common thread to both posts is the negative effect Internet technology has on human creativity. Whether I’m writing short youth-focused devotionals or a semester-long research paper, the act of writing requires research. And, the act of research requires a good deal of creativity and effort. Combining multiple sources of information into a few focused arguments takes a type of concentration easily sacrificed in the Internet age.

This may be because for whatever line of thought you are pursuing, there’s a good chance someone else has walked it before. It’s tough to blaze a new trail online. The irony in this is that in an age where we’re all becoming less creative and more dependent on the machine, we all want to become (and sometimes think we’re becoming) more creative and more independent.

Sometimes creativity isn’t about doing something that’s never been done before. Sometimes it’s taking what’s been done and creating a more proactive use for the technologies we already have. I posted a while ago about the advent of digital books and how big-time media companies are catering to the richest individuals in society rather than exploring how the technology could be used to serve underfunded communities. Once again, I stand my ground (hoping to fall in line with some of Lanier’s suggestions) and say that one of the best things we can do for our society is to stop inventing and start innovating. We must stop yielding to information overload and start compiling the clutter we’ve accumulated into a few focused initiatives with a broader purpose.