Updated: Oct 14, 2020
How many times have you read an article that could have been named ‘Reasons Why Young People are Ruining the World’ or “The New Generation is the Worst One Yet’? On the off chance that you haven’t yet drowned in these articles, I’ll do my best to summarize. In short, these statements are archetypes for discussing the ways that we - the youth - are disturbing accepted facets of pre-our-time society and challenging the legitimacy of that status quo. Their opposites also exist, albeit few and far between, and argue that the younger generations are better - more capable, more efficient, etc. - than previous generations. I would argue that neither of these archetypes are productive, and both are harmful for obvious and insidious reasons.
Charles Tilly, a sociologist and author, says in Regimes and Repertoires that certain political and social movement tactics must not be labeled as “more efficient, more political or more revolutionary than [any] other” (1, pg. 54). To simplify arguments in this way (as better or worse than something else) is to ignore many complexities that allow the argument to develop nuance and to see opposing beliefs as whole entities. I believe that society has allowed itself to do exactly this when thinking about generational differences. As I mentioned, it feels like everyone has a stance on young people’s capacity to live up to the standards of their predecessors. However, we must shift from seeing young people as either less capable or more capable than previous generations and, instead, focus on the ways that our ever-changing world is encouraging growth and the fragmentation of previously accepted norms. One of the most notable differences between generations is the way that we consume news.
Let’s face it, in the past decade, capital-J Journalism has taken a serious hit in its support, resources and readership thanks to an increased accessibility to news via social media and lowercase-j journalism. It is important to note here that capital-J Journalism is the more credible, professional form of journalism that usually signifies a newsroom, trained journalists and routine output of news - whether that be daily, weekly, monthly, or otherwise. Lowercase-j journalism is, on the other hand, less credible, lower stakes, one-and-done journalism. That is to say, the author or journalist has less of a reputation to maintain and is not held as accountable by a larger entity for their claims. For example, the emergence of a story on Twitter that erupts after a student posts a video of a controversial incident is lowercase-j journalism as it comes from a (probably) one-time journalist who is (likely) not a trained journalist. The increase of this lowercase-j journalism spells trouble in many instances as it is difficult to hold individuals accountable for misrepresenting or misspeaking in the public eye. This is not to say that a combination of these forms of journalism cannot exist and, perhaps, the emergence of an in-between level may be of very real interest to the world. This is also not to say that one form of journalism is better than the other, as they both have very real and complicated pros and cons, but it is to say and show the more contemporary forms and the more traditional perspective on news.
In the past, as grandparents and parents often say, the newspaper or news channel were the only sources for news. This made news consumption highly curated and gave news outlets an immense amount of power in determining what people knew and what they didn’t. Today, with the emergence of on-the-ground, decentralized lowercase-j journalism, we are able to learn about otherwise hidden stories and experiences. We get a variety of voices, backgrounds, experiences and grievances. This allows us to develop an increased awareness of marginalized groups and an overall better understanding of the world on many levels. The seeker of knowledge, with this, is given a sense of power in that he/she may curate their own news. However, this also poses problems for corporate news outlets.
As we wave a sorrowful goodbye to centralized journalism, we must learn to cope with the reality of this new way of functioning in a highly-journalistic and news-oriented world. This is something I think about a lot, and something that I believe has very real implications for the future in every sense. So, I took a survey of around twenty college students, all female and all ranging from 18-22 years of age. While this demographic is clearly not representative of society as a whole, it is important to note that this data is representative of the views of this certain population - a population that holds a certain degree of privilege as college students and also a certain degree of minority status as women. The survey asked questions about frequency of news consumption, types of news consumed, types of news avoided, and other relevant points. Results from the survey indicated a vast number of sources for news (including the Skimm, Twitter, Youtube, etc) but varied little in style. That is to say, most of the sources listed are highly comprehensive and are presented in a way that seems accessible to many readers for reasons such as language, tone, explanations, etc. These sources also all have in common the trait of summarizing. They are colloquial, casual and interesting to read while providing background information and real news material. Because of the summary-like nature of most media sources outlined in the survey, I asked participants how likely they would be to further research an article that was confusing for them - the answers indicated that most participants would not perform background research on something they didn’t understand.
I would argue that this is because of the fact that many non-colloquial, highly-professional news outlets use inflated terminology that requires pre-existing knowledge of a case or topic in order to understand. It is this particular inaccessibility that drives younger generations towards outlets like the Skimm and Twitter. In the current journalistic moment, we have no space for inflated language or confusing discourse. We live in a world where speed and time are valued above all else, and understanding this high-sounding rhetoric is inaccessible for many (if not most) people. So, for better or for worse, we (as the journalists of younger generations) are tasked with presenting news and journalism in a way that aligns with the attention spans of our audiences; news that is concise, attainable and comprehensive.
Charles Tilly, Regimes and Repertoires, Ch. 3 (1)