Young people today just aren’t what they were |

Young people today just aren’t what they were

Barry Smith

It’s all about what the kids want. That’s what they tell me. How do we get young people to read the newspaper? How do the TV networks get them to watch their shows?

How do department stores get them into their clothing sections? Which new electronics gear is going to be the hottest thing among teenagers?

I have to ponder such questions – the first one, anyway, about newspapers – as part of my job. Newspapers aren’t considered essential among people between the ages of 18 and 34. They don’t trust the media. They only trust each other, and that’s where they get their information.

It’s the “content generation,” says Dale Peskin, co-director of The Media Center at the America Press Institute, who tries to figure out what’s happening out there before it happens.

That’s a tough job, because the world changes in a big hurry. Young people, Peskin says, are “capturing life as it occurs” on their cell phones and digital cameras and web logs. Then they share it with each other.

If news happens – something important to their life, something that will make a difference in their day – then, well, somebody will call them, e-mail them a photo or text-message a link to the blog.

Peskin said a whole lot more when I listened to him speak the other day, but it got too depressing for me. I work at a newspaper, where we have a big industrial press downstairs that churns out printed pages every night to be delivered to your door in the morning.

It’s old-fashioned. Of course, the Nevada Appeal has web sites and blogs and e-mail, and soon we’ll be adding streaming video and all kinds of ways to reach out to those young people. Because a newspaper doesn’t have to be ink on paper.

Still, I had to face the fact that the world is changing and young people today just aren’t like young people of yesterday.

Then I went over to Carson High School on Wednesday to listen to some students deliver their speeches for their senior projects.

I heard a young woman who wants to be a doctor, another who learned to sew her prom dress, and a 17-year-old who just wanted to meet the father he hadn’t seen since he was a toddler.

Yeah, it’s a whole new world out there. And what’s always been important remains just as important as ever.

I think young people today, much like young people of every generation, don’t want to be lumped together as some kind of faceless horde to be measured, surveyed, analyzed and patronized.

See what I mean? I can’t even talk about it without making some sweeping generalizations about people who are, obviously, individuals with their own needs and concerns. For every example Peskin gave of the direction young people are going, I can give an example of someone going the opposite way.

But he was talking about trends. Demographics. The next Big Thing.

Well, I for one am sick of trends. I didn’t see any trends walking around Carson High School. I saw teenagers. And I wouldn’t presume to summarize them.

From what I see and read, we’re a nation of trends. I picture a herd of sheep wandering aimlessly from bush to tree to stream. But I’m a lot more optimistic than that. I believe in the ability of people to inform themselves, and then make intelligent choices in their own self-interest. I also believe most people are compassionate, so they’ll also make choices that won’t hurt other people. And when given a chance, they’ll reach out a hand to help each other.

From those choices rise the issues of the day – whether they be Social Security or methamphetamine or abortion or a million other things that affect your life. Because when it does affect your life, then you’ll pay attention.

So what do the kids want? They want information about the choices they’ll be making. And that’s no different from you and me. That’s no different from the way it’s always been.

I saw the other day that Yahoo! had launched a new site with 8 million blogs. I figure that’s 8 million more things I won’t be reading.

But maybe out of those 8 million people who are tapping away on their computer keyboards will come the next Damon Runyan, or Mike Royko, or Hunter Thompson, or even a Mark Twain or Ernest Hemingway. One of them could be tapping on a keyboard in my newsroom right now.

Maybe a few of them will write a sentence that touches us the way no sentence has before. Maybe millions of people will read them, and be moved by them, and think about their lives in a fresh light.

That’s a trend I would be willing to follow – though there wouldn’t be a thing new about it at all.

n Barry Smith is editor of the Nevada Appeal. Contact him at editor@nevada or 881-1221.