Water, water, everywhereÂ nor any drop to drink.
That well worn rhyme sums up the sobering lesson in a July 2007Â report,Â “Young People and News,” in which Harvard University professor Thomas Patterson offered thisÂ analysis ofÂ newsÂ habits and news awareness based on interviews withÂ 1800 randomlyÂ chosen respondentsÂ representing teens, young adults (18-30) and older adults (31 and above):
Â “The evidence shows that young Americans are estranged from the daily newspaper and rely more heavily upon television than on the internet for their news. A few decades ago there were not large differences in the news habits and daily information levels of younger and older Americans. Today, unlike most older Americans, many young people find a bit of news here and there and do not make it a routine part of their day.”
TheÂ study (press release and full report here) said not only do younger people expose themselves to less news –Â whetherÂ through print, broadcast or internet — than do older adults, but their definition of news alsoÂ tends more to soft stories like the death of Anna Nicole Smith, rather than hard newsÂ likeÂ Britain’s planned pullot from Iraq.Â Soft stories, said the reported,Â created “a buzz among younger respondents” while hard news practically bounced off them because they could not put the big events into the context of their lives. Quoting from the report:
“Studies indicate that people can hear something over and over without recognizing its existence if they have little prior knowledge or awareness of it. Their mind fails to recognize it amidst the noise of the hundreds of informational messages that come their way each day.”
Although the report focused on the young, as defined above, I was none too reassuredÂ by theÂ news habitsÂ of the older contingent — only 35 percent read a paper daily, andÂ just one in fiveÂ scanned internet news regularly. Television did better, drawing the daily attention of roughly six in 10 older adults.
Overall the 33-page reportÂ conveys the sadÂ sense that Americans are losing interest in the sort of news that would seem toÂ lie at the heart of self governance. Democracy rests uponÂ a notionÂ called political efficacy,Â our beliefÂ as citizens that weÂ matter. If Americans cannot comprehendÂ the big issues ofÂ their dayÂ how can they hope to control them?
. . . toÂ be continued Friday.Â