Dead Tree News is Dead

Where will the next generation go for environmental news?

The last time my 23-year-old best friend read the newspaper was when the project she made for one of her biology courses got mentioned in it. The last time I read the newspaper was when we were required to write an op-ed for one of my journalism courses and I wanted to know what an op-ed was. Get the idea? The word “required” comes up a lot. 

It's not that the youth don't like the idea of holding what they read in their hands, it's that their hands are always too busy. We are the generation that took multitasking to a neutral state of being. The problem with holding a newspaper is that it requires two hands and both eyes to read. We can't have that. We don't have the time or the attention span. 

Psychologists in first world countries agree that the human attention span has been decreasing ever since the early 90's. That fact alone shouldn't be surprising to anyone. What is surprising however is that when compared to evolutionary standards, our decrease in attention span is a lot like going from a dinosaur to a lizard in a lifetime. Yes, that's pretty fast.

So what about the future of reporting? Well, it'll have to adapt. The world won't want to read about Asian carp, they'll want to see it. Sure, there's TV coverage of stories now, but it's mostly surface stories that focus on timeliness more than anything else. It won't stay that way for long. Our generation will go to great lengths to gain knowledge while keeping their hands busy. 

Take the Planet Earth series, for example. At least 25% of all my friends own this series on DVD. It's highly visual, detail filled, and is hours long. Still, we put it on in the background and days later somehow remember that the wild dogs of Africa are the world's most advanced hunters. That's the future of in-depth reporting in a nutshell. Our generation doesn't want to get the news, it wants the news to get to us.

During the summer flood, a couple of guys I used to work with went out with video cameras and filmed the area around their apartment. Those few blocks on Oakland got hit pretty bad, and they were shoulder-deep in filth filming the roofs of cars getting hit by waves of sewage and rain water. When the guys finished filming, they immediately posted it on Facebook. Within seconds comments started pouring in. A few days later, TMJ4 did a story on it and used their footage. 

This isn't a chance occurrence; this is the way real reporting happens today. Regular people have access to just about the same technology as do the professionals. We can film a story or take a picture and have it be seen by our entire social network within seconds.

Timeliness is a factor that is no longer a trait of good reporting. Timeliness is just something we have when posting about our life, checking up on events, or reading our friends' tweets. In-depth reporting isn't going to die- it's going to replace the surface news that everyone gets on their e-mail pages in the morning. It's going to be one of the only forms of surviving professional journalism because the weather, traffic, and murder reports take seconds to view online. We can get those on our Blackberries while waiting in line for our daily dose of caffeine. 

News coverage will have to turn to the sorts of stories that can't be read in a minute. Our generation hasn't stopped caring about real issues, we just don't know about them. If there was in-depth coverage of the New Urbanism movement on the news- we'd watch it. The History and Discovery channels are well and alive because they are keeping to that format of providing the viewer with real knowledge while allowing them to go about their household routines. That's what the news will have to do.

If there is a batch of bad meat on the market, we'll want to know about it. Human curiosity is well and alive- it's the time we're short on. A minute long segment on the most current problem won't cut it anymore. We want to know more and the news will have to deliver that information in an elaborate, visual format. I know I would watch an hour-long report on hard, environmental issues, and so would a lot of other people my age. The youth still care. Now it's up to the media to bring us the issues to care about.

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