By Kansas Farm Bureau Columnist John Schlageck
The image of Mom with her nose buried in the front page, Dad reading the sports page and the kids chuckling their way through the comics, harkens back to long ago days when news exposure in the home was a family affair. Sections of the daily paper were shared just like the space around the glow of the round radio dial and later the television set.
Young Americans were huge consumers of news just a few decades ago. Millions of baby boomers consumed their news in mass quantities.
During this time period, two out of three young adults watched the nightly news on CBS, NBC or ABC. These three media giants ruled the airwaves pitching cars, cigarettes, soft drinks and other consumer goods between news segments. Today cable and satellite television news commercials still pander to the same boomers only now they’re marketing prescription drugs.
Older Americans continue to schedule their late afternoons around a daily “appointment” with television news. Fewer and fewer young people behave that way and most don’t set aside a specific time of the day to “get their news.”
About one in six young adults and a like proportion of teens watch the news nightly. By contrast, more than two of every five older adults watch the national news religiously and a slightly larger number follow local TV news.
Some studies say today’s young Americans are less interested in news than their counterparts of a generation or two ago. Other contemporary analysis claims the digital revolution is bringing young people back to the news.
One thing is for certain, the notion that young people do not care about the news is dead wrong. What’s happening is they rely on a different distribution system.
Young people today are still interested in news. They want to keep abreast of the environment, health, food, nutrition, sports and many of the same issues that have always driven people to seek information. They still crave a daily diet of hate, death and war.
However, they’d much rather read about it on their smart phone, iPad and computer – anything but the daily newspaper. Media use today has become a solitary affair.
Today, two out of three young adults largely ignore this wood-based relic. Two out of every five pay almost no attention to national and local television news as well.
I’m not making this up. These figures come from a recent study on press, politics and public policy from one of the most revered institutions of higher learning located on the East Coast.
When it comes to newspapers today, only one in five older adults remains an avid newspaper reader. An avid reader is defined as one who reads every day and pays close attention to news stories while doing so. Only one in 12 young adults and a scant one in 20 teens rely on newspapers as a source of information in their daily lives.
Age differences shrink for Internet-based news, but do not disappear. Older adults are less likely than young adults and teens to access the Web; however, they make greater use of it as a news source.
Still, none of these three age groups use Internet-based news heavily. About one in seven older adults, one in eight young adults and one in 12 teenagers are heavy users of the Internet for news.
Few Americans believe they must be plugged into each and every news source. Most are comfortable with the medium of their own choice. Older adults choose what’s comfortable to them while younger news gatherers like to explore the latest avenues and sources of technology.
In 2013 younger Americans have opted for new ways of getting their news. They tap into entertainment programs, comedy, new media, acquaintances or an irregular mix of traditional media.
It is simply not true that the Internet and social media are responsible for the decline in news interests among young Americans. Many factors have contributed including a weakening of the home as a place where news habits are acquired.
John Schlageck is a leading commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas. Born and raised on a diversified farm in northwestern Kansas, his writing reflects a lifetime of experience, knowledge and passion.