February 20, 2008
an opening for the news media
David Carr, a financial reporter for the New York Times, argues that the rising youth turnout rate offers the news media an opportunity to expand their audience among young people. He quotes me, saying, "I think that there is a clear message in here for the media: these campaigns have made very direct and serious pitches to young people and they have responded. ... I think it demonstrates that if you approach them in a specific way about things they care about, they will engage."
This is certainly an important issue, because using the media (especially a daily newspaper) correlates powerfully with voting and all forms of civic participation, including membership in groups. For young people, news consumption has fallen:
This graph provides an incomplete picture. It doesn't continue until 2004-7, when you would see some increase in newspaper readership. And it omits other news sources, such as the Internet. But notice that the decline was long, slow, and steady and started well before the Internet achieved mass scale.
I serve as a trustee of the Newspaper Association Foundation and do other work in this field because I believe that the news media (as well as schools and other institutions) need to invest more in building young people's interest in the news. They are also going to have to rebuild trust, because American youth are more cynical--or sophisticated--about bias and spin in the press than they used to be. The graph below shows trends in trust; our qualitative research finds that young people are especially sensitive to perceived bias and manipulation.