When will they learn: The young are smart

The problem with old guys on newspapers trying to attract young people is that they pander and insult the people they so desperately want to attract. They create lite products because they think the young have no attention span when, far more likely, the young have no patience for the overlong blatherings of the old.

See this story about a Dutch paper attracting a young audience willing to pay for it with depth, not shallowness:

Instead of the traditional news values of “who, what, where and when”, NRC Next claims to concentrate on background, analysis and opinion. It assumes that readers have already learned the main points of the news from other channels.

It took the old dogs long enough to learn that new trick.

See also this story on the millenials (aka te young) in the Star-Ledger:

They rarely read books for fun and most likely aren’t reading this newspaper. They are the most diverse — and perhaps the smartest — generation in U.S. history. And Richard Sweeney thinks the nation’s colleges and universities need to start making changes to teach them better. . . .

Sweeney, a father of six (including two Millennials), began noticing a change in the learning patterns of students while conducting his annual campus focus groups on how students use [the New Jersey Institute of Technology's] library.

“About seven years ago, I started noticing some differences in the focus groups,” said Sweeney of Metuchen. “I began to see distinct differences.”

As the Generation X students graduated and left campus, they were replaced by the Millennials. The new students seemed to be studying more in groups in the library. They huddled around their laptops teaching each other. They watched videotaped lectures of other professors when they couldn’t understand their teacher’s lessons. . . .

Many spent thousands of hours of childhood playing video games. As a result, they learn best by doing, with interactive graphics, collaboration and the ability to advance through trial and error. . . .

“They want more choices, not less,” Sweeney said. “They want to do it their way.” . . .

Most confirmed Sweeney’s theories that Millennial students are not reading books for fun, watching television news or reading newspapers. Nearly all said they get their news from Yahoo, Google or other sites.

Only one of the seven students had read a newspaper in the last week — and that was the Socialist Worker, the newspaper of the International Socialist Organization.

Here is Sweeney‘s article and here is a PowerPoint on the millennials.

The real lesson in this is simple: Respect. Sweeney is trying to teach this lesson to academics but also to journalists.

A wise editor who was my partner in the launch of Entertainment Weekly, Joan Feeney, taught me that the worst place to begin the development of a new media product is with the demographic, for this inevitably leads to pandering. What do they want? Let’s give it to them. But a product that starts with a need and the passion to fill it is quite different. If you want to serve young people today, start with respecting them enough to give them something worthy of their time.

  • http://photographedublin.blogspot.com/ M Buckley

    Some good insights.

  • http://robertdfeinman.com/society Robert Feinman

    Speaking of pandering, the weekly ombudsman column in the NY Times discusses the proliferation of “soft” sections as a way to attract new advertisers and thus subsidize the news department.

    With all the cutbacks elsewhere the threat is real, but is this the way to deal with it? Personally, I resent getting a paper filled with sections whose only purpose is to promote the most wasteful and superficial aspects of our society. I know that rich people have all the money, but is it really necessary for the Times to pander to them? Are they shallow enough that they will read and/or be influenced by this stuff? Don’t we have better uses for our forests than promoting over priced perfume and $100 per glass wines?

    And, if the scheme works, won’t the end result be that the Times will attract more of the most profligate sectors of our society and then have to start changing their news coverage and outlook so as not to offend them?

  • http://www.cabearie.blogspot.com Ruth

    Good for you Jeff, must be because you have a kid who has a bit of dignity worth preserving.

    What do you think of the Dallas Morning News’ Sunday edition including a weekly comic book? I’m serious, they do.

  • http://spaceygreview.blogspot.com/ Grayson

    Or how about a “graphic political adventure?” Even being a boomer, I’d love to see more of this cleverness, see below, on either side of the political fence. This one, The Book of Ralph, is from Atlanta’s alt weekly, Creative Loafing.

    Lordy knows, they’re throwing everything they’ve got at the fan in old fogey media land. Some of it’s bound to stick.
    http://atlanta.creativeloafing.com/gyrobase/Content?oid=oid%3A20871

  • Cayle

    The media, along with the current administration, needs to focus attention on issues that young intellectuals are passionate about. Issues such as education, environment, and global poverty. All of which are addressed by the Millennium Development Goals, agreed upon by every nation on earth in 2000. The Borgen Project does a commendable job of creating awareness and information about these issues.

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  • Anonymous

    This is ridiculous. Another nanosecond and we’ll have some other reporter discovering some new generation, with some new set of values. “Unlike theit predecessors born five minutes ago, this group likes to huddle around campfires and sing together, and go off with laptops and learn alone.”

    Also, as some who works in a university, how do you square the notion that this is the smartest generation, while those who work in higher ed rightly say that this group is the least literate, the least able to do basic math, the least knowledgable about geography, history, whatever? But I’ll bet they know everything there is to know about Halo.

  • Anonymous

    Btw, whatever happened to those slothful Generation X’ers who were going to ruin the world with their disinterest in work and everything else?

  • http://inrethinking.blogspot.com ashok

    Also, as some who works in a university, how do you square the notion that this is the smartest generation, while those who work in higher ed rightly say that this group is the least literate, the least able to do basic math, the least knowledgable about geography, history, whatever? But I’ll bet they know everything there is to know about Halo.

    I don’t know that the claim is that they’re the “smartest,” the claim is that they’re smart. Part of this claim is that they “learn differently,” and they want things worth their time.

    I don’t think Mr. Jarvis has said anything controversial here. He’s asking that respect be shown to those who are younger, and to that end, one really has to look at the assumptions the anonymous commentator quoted has put forth, and see that they start with a fundamental disrespect for the students involved. OK, your experience has shown you that some students can’t do very basic things asked of them, or demonstrate elementary knowledge. Fine. How do you explain the professors that have students that can read and write in 7 languages, that produce original research before 20, that find ways of solving problems others thought impossible? Did it occur to that commentator that the university structure might be problematic, that it might be shortchanging the students who learn differently, that it might be forcing students into things they don’t feel are relevant because they’re not relevant?

    The anonymous commentator might say that this dodges the question of people knowing the basics. But I respond that people only care for the basics when the larger goal has been set forth with clarity, and an articulate plan. The students described above, with their “different” ways of doing and learning, have carved out their own plan, and to see only the failures is really to see only institutions that can’t adapt in their decline, not what is representative of the young moving forward.

  • Anonymous

    Here’s the difference: I respected young people BEFORE they had cell phones and text messaging. I knew they were smart when they spent hours communicating with friends on land lines. They are much like their predecessors. Curious. Critical. Clannish. Energetic.

    Having a cell phone does not change the way people learn. Did the advent of radio change the basic brain structure of people? How about the telephone?

    I agree that technology can change the way that people can access materials to be learned. But it does not change the way people learn. The utter failure of educational technology shows that, at least the ed tech designed to somehow soup up the cognitive processes of humans.

    I am amazed at the possibilities that technology brings to schools and universities in terms of the vastness of information available…having the libraries of the world at your fingertips. But having that information availanble does not somehow change the cognitive pathways of human beings.

  • http://inrethinking.blogspot.com ashok

    I agree that technology can change the way that people can access materials to be learned. But it does not change the way people learn. The utter failure of educational technology shows that, at least the ed tech designed to somehow soup up the cognitive processes of humans.

    Thank you for your response. Notice that my comment does not mention technology at all; a different way of “learning” could involve Aristotle’s treatment of common opinion in his works versus the Presocratic style of writing that was more poetic.

    You don’t need to attack the notion of progress via the smart/dumb dichotomy. A better attack is to ask Mr. Jarvis and those who are so “bully” on the future what it is they want. You can argue successfully that values have degraded, inasmuch as we can watch beheadings on YouTube and turn to The Daily Show to make fun of anyone with authority to their face, and there’s really no counter to that argument. Anyone who wants to counter it has to pretty much admit they have no sense of value and only a sense of progress, a hope that the future will be “better,” and that opens up the possibility of democracy without restraint. In other words, if you want to argue against progress, charge it with being anarchistic, and don’t relent. The libertarianism of the progress advocates has much to answer for already, and will be even more dangerous in the future, as it can’t defend itself – it assumes that the traditional which guards it, and that it can fall back on when intellectually empty, will always be there, even as it attacks it.

  • http://marblog.org/ mari

    millennials have grown with a new media, way of communication, way to learn, in most case unconsciously. good insight.

  • Americans are morons

    *barf* The young are dumb. Always have been, always will be. Proposing that juvenilia and the infantilisation of American culture is modern sophistication (instead of acknowledging what it really is…late-Roman decadence) is simply ludicrous.

    You people really are on the decline, aren’t you?

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  • http://seriouslysimplesums.positive-review.com Accelerated Maths Learning

    Thanks for your honesty and for writing something on a positive note. There is so much negativity around the world in these troubled times, so I appreciate what you have said.

    Kind regards,

    Ruth