How to engage Gen-Y in news

It’s a common complaint from college journalism professors: Their students, who say they want to be journalists, don’t actually follow the news. They’re on Facebook and YouTube all the time, says Michigan State’s Bob Gould, but Bob Gouldeven his broadcast journalism students don’t watch television news. And despite their connectedness, many of them somehow managed to be blissfully unaware of stories that the rest of us couldn’t miss, like the “balloon boy” incident last fall.

What do we have to do to get students interested in news?” Gould asks in a column for the Michigan Association of Broadcasters newsletter.

His answer? Get back to creative visual storytelling.

Great stories stand out among the clutter. Just because the delivery method has changed doesn’t mean we have to give up our core journalistic values and the ability to tell great stories — stories that affect people and the lives that we live.

But would that be enough to attract younger viewers to news? I’d say probably not, if we’re talking about traditional TV news programs. Great stories are being done now, just not very often, so they’re lost in all that clutter. I can’t envision that balance changing dramatically enough to make a real difference.

On the other hand, individual videos already do attract younger viewers when they’re available where those viewers are–on YouTube, for example–and when it’s easy to share them with others. The question is whether those videos could be the kinds of well-crafted news stories Gould is talking about or whether they’re more likely to be the raw, “you gotta see this” footage that tends to go viral now.

Any thoughts?


9 comments for “How to engage Gen-Y in news

  1. KevinG
    January 19, 2010 at 1:33 pm

    The fact that several students were unaware of the balloon boy story may be very good news for the future of journalism. The conclusion that Gould reaches – that students are not interested in news – seems spurious to me. They’re journalism students: they are interested in news.

    In order to capitalize on the shift(s) currently underway it may be more productive to ask: (1) What do these kids think is good story telling?; (2) What are the characteristics of stories and delivery mechanisms that they appreciate and use?

    If the multilayered visual stories that Gould ( and I ) appreciate are not what the next generation appreciates then there is nothing that can be done to change that. You can only adapt.

  2. Amanda Emily
    January 19, 2010 at 2:14 pm

    I’ve argued this point over and over. My generation is not the primary audience for TV news. Most of them don’t own homes, they don’t have kids and are just starting out in their careers. In other words, they do not have a stake in the community in which they reside and as a result, they are not going to pay attention to local news.

    Putting twenty-something year old producers fresh out of college in charge of weekday evening newscasts was and is a recipe for disaster…as is cutting experienced bodies in the newsroom along with their institutional knowledge of the community. You end up with flash, trash and quick to turn fluff stories on the air and drive off the older audiences. As Gen Y settles down and starts to pay attention to what goes on in their communities…ya really think they’ll pay attention to the local news as a source of information?

  3. JohnM
    January 19, 2010 at 3:25 pm

    As a former News Director in small markets as well as high school and college educator, I can tell you from my experience that we could make the news look like MTV and students still won’t care.

    Unfortunately, we now live in an “entitlement” society where our young people feel they are entitled to get a degree even if they don’t do the required work. This generation doesn’t want to take the time to research. They want all information at their fingertips. They don’t want to pound the steets, they’d rather try to call or email someone for information and would rather sit at their desk, then go chase a story. When the Gen Y’ers get their first or second jobs, they feel entitled to be treated like veteran journalists and don’t necessarily want to pay their dues.

    Companies are making matters worse by giving these young people what they want… a job in a major market after only a year or two in a small market instead of 4 or 5 years. They lay off or decide not to renew seasoned journalists’ contracts because they cost too much. Can you really put a dollar amount on quality journalism from seasoned journalists?

    I think the biggest problem facing journalism is the lack of intertest in companies providing professional development for their staff. Companies today are hiring people with less and less experience with the mindset “we can train them the way we want.” Yet, many stations micromanage instead of training staff.

    Gone are the days of companies paying for journalism conferences or workshops. Young people today feel they are “entitled” to have their company pay for professional development and when a company won’t… very rarely will the person actually invest in themselves and pay their own way to get more training.

    This problem won’t change until college institutions force people to “earn” their education. It won’t change until journalists start investing in their own professional training outside of a college classrooom and it won’t change until news organizations require PROVEN experience to hire a qualified journalist instead of hiring warm bodies who can fill news time.

    The bottom line is that Gen Y’ers have grown up not caring about their own education or the news in theri communities when other generations did care about those things. Unless we change that way of thinking, we can expect more of the same from our country’s youth.

  4. January 19, 2010 at 5:34 pm

    I agree with John. Until the “journalists of tomorrow” start investing in their education, as well as their careers, there will be those so-called “Gen Y-ers” who could care less about what’s going on even in their own hometown, let alone in Haiti. After all, what’s the use of pursuing a career in journalism if you don’t have an interest in the news? That’s a question young journalists themselves must ask.

  5. KevinG
    January 19, 2010 at 6:21 pm

    I can tell you from my experience that we could make the news look like MTV and students still won’t care.

    I think you’ve put your finger on one of the significant shortcomings of the industry’s response to date and it reflects, in my opinion, a fundamental misunderstanding and underestimation of the changes that are taking place in the way “news” will be gathered, and produced in light of the new reality of the way it is consumed and, most importantly, paid for. It’s unclear to me how hiring “proven experience” will help companies adapt.

    Each generation is a product of their environment. How could they be anything else. Almost inevitably each generation is criticized for the same shortcomings: they don’t have the same values, they don’t have adequate respect and they don’t do the job they way it used to be done. And yet, each generation manages to get the job done in a way that works for them.

    While I’m often dismayed at what passes for analysis and critical thinking in the news ( to be fair I’ve been dismayed for a very long time ) , there is no amount of handwringing which will slow the changes that are underway. Institutions that can adapt will be around to influence those changes. Institutions that can’t adapt will fail.

  6. January 20, 2010 at 4:17 pm

    This story and resulting comments show exactly why the younger generation does not consume mainstream news. The problem isn’t with the students, it’s with the news.

    Simply look at the state of our media today: massive consolidation, corporate-sponsored news, constant sensationalism, and extremely shaky ethics. While older news consumers complain about these problems, the younger generation simply chooses to ignore mainstream news altogether.

    When I studied journalism I was forced to read certain newspapers and watch television news everyday. This almost made me change my major in college. I did not want my mind to be polluted by stories about Britney Spears, or watch 30 minutes of reports on murders and car accidents (aka the nightly news!)

    This generation gets their news online, becoming curators of content. They share the stories that are important and impactful to them. They don’t know about Balloon Boy? Good- I wish I didn’t either, because this is not real news, and should not be discussed in the same breath as Big J journalism (except to contrast).

    Let the younger generation define what interests them, instead of forcing a failed model on their heads.

  7. Bob Gould
    January 21, 2010 at 12:10 pm

    Thank you all for responding to my article. Many of your thoughts hit the mark…Amanda and Kevin, I agree with you on many levels and what you say makes a lot of sense.

    When I said that they hadn’t heard about Balloon Boy, it discouraged me, because if they are indeed journalism students interested news, how do you miss this story that was EVERYWHERE for days. If they missed this story, then they missed everything else too.

    Students DON’T have a vested interest in their community so they often don’t care about issues that don’t affect them. This is definitely true and I used to hate being in the newsroom with young producers who would come to the table with national stories because they weren’t vested in their community.

    One thing that surprised me about going into teaching journalism was that students that are Journalism majors don’t often know what they want to do. They are made up of several types:

    1. those that truly are news junkies (rare)
    2. Those that were told they are good writers and should look at journalism (so they don’t really know much about news and not overly interested in it yet)
    3. Those that want to be sports reporters
    4. Those that want to be entertainment reporters
    5. Those that just want to be “on TV” hosting anything.

    So, just because they are journalism majors doesn’t necessarily mean that they are, by default, interested in news. Trust me, this has been one of the hardest things to accept as trying to teach young journalists.

    That being said, though, I think there’s alot of talented young people out there who DO have a passion and drive to succeed. They like journalism, but like many of us, are confused as to what the future holds and they will be able to make a living doing it.

    For now, I keep teaching fundamentals, because I believe that even if the method of content delivery changes, good journalistic ideals of ethics, newsgathering, and storytelling are still essential.

    Bob Gould
    Broadcast Journalism Instructor, Michigan State University

  8. Deb Wenger
    January 22, 2010 at 4:19 pm

    What a great discussion! I’m actually sitting in a newsroom in Vicksburg, Miss. right now with five journalism students from Ole Miss. All five volunteered to drive the 3.5 hours here to do two days of reporting on the future of tourism for the Vicksburg Post. They’re getting no money and no college credit to be here.

    Could they all have done more research before heading here; could they be asking harder-hitting questions; could they be just be better informed overall? Absolutely! But, I bet if most of us were honest, we might admit that OUR college professors could have said the same thing!

    The fact of the matter is they’re here because they want to be professional journalists one day and they’re willing to work at it. I think they prove that JohnM is taking a too pessimistic view of today’s young journalists.

    I believe the biggest challenge j-schools face right now is sheer numbers. Bob is right that our classes are filled with more students than ever who really have no interest in traditional journalism. Then again, there aren’t enough traditional journalism jobs for all of them anyway!

    Therefore, for me the big questions involve how schools should adapt: Should we just keep teaching the fundamentals as Bob suggests? Or should we focus more on fostering innovation, entrepreneurial skills, new storytelling forms, etc. – letting them try to define the future of journlism for themselves as perhaps Andrzej was recommending?

  9. KevinG
    January 27, 2010 at 6:10 pm

    Watch closely as newspaper and magazine publishers bet their last nickels — not an exaggeration, in some cases — on this new medium. It provides the 50-somethings who run these companies a chance to captivate subscribers and advertisers by returning to their roots — producing and selling the terrific newspapers and magazines that made these brands valuable in the first place. But even better than the original, with up-to-the-minute content that can be individualized for every reader — and advertiser. Happy days are here again, along with the ubiquity, relevance and brand loyalty that has been absent from the publishing world for the past 15 years.

    The apple tablet may be the first ‘bridge” device where story telling in a rich media environment is close enough to a traditional publishing model that a few organizations could leverage their existing brands. Revenue, of course, will still be lower.

    Just my two cents.

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