Reading #newsengagementday activities around the country and the globe gives me hope that we can make engaging with news a priority again.
For the past decade I have been concerned that news engagement may be a thing of the past. My uneasiness has grown as I have watched the changing of the generational guard from Baby Boomers to Millennials, the generation born in the 1980s and 1990s who today range in age from late teens to early 30s. While the commitment to news engagement was strong among Baby Boomers and the generations that came before them, Millennials’ commitment to seeking news is comparatively weak. Millennials may bump into news while on the internet, social media, and their smartphones but running into news while doing something else is not a model for sustained future news engagement or an informed democratic society.
While some worry about the skills our journalism and communication students need for an ever-changing media landscape, I worry about the consequences of declining news engagement on the future of the news media, our democratic society, and a public that needs to be informed to fully participate in civic life.
In the past as generations grew into adulthood and put down roots in a community, they would subscribe to a newspaper. That’s why a half century ago, journalism scholars Bruce Westley and Werner Severin called newspaper reading a thoroughly institutionalized behavior. In 1964, almost nine out of ten adults read a newspaper daily; 50 years later, only 17% of Millennials between 18 and 23 sought news on a daily basis, according to my new book, News for a Mobile-First Consumer.
As the oldest Millennials establish roots in communities across America, they are more likely to have a monthly subscription to Netflix, Hulu, or a streaming music service than a subscription to the news. A subscription to news, whether print or digital, is simply not a priority in the lives of this generation which is now the largest. That’s not surprising since according to my survey conducted for News for a Mobile-First Consumer, fewer than one-third of Millennials were raised to believe it is important to be informed. For the post-Millennial generation, these statistics may worsen if we do nothing to change them.
Pointing out the weak relationship between Millennials and news is not an indictment of this young generation but a wake-up call for all. More individuals, regardless of generation, must engage with news if our media institutions are to thrive and our democracy is to be populated by an informed public. Today on News Engagement Day, Tues., Oct. 4, we’re only a little more than a month before Election Day. This year’s News Engagement Day, then, is also an opportunity to emphasize the importance of being informed before casting a vote in this historic presidential election. Being informed from trustworthy news sources about the presidential candidates and their stands on issues that matter before voting is the only way to ensure the future we get is the future we want for ourselves and our country.
Paula Poindexter, Founding Editor
Center for News Excellence and Engagement