Journalism’s new generation

Last week I had a chance to be part of a lunch session with nationally known journalist Jeff Greenfield at Marietta College. Greenfield has been a senior political correspondent for CBS, senior analyst for CNN, politics and media analyst for ABC News, and written for multiple national publications. He had been speaking and working with several classes of students in the communications and mass media programs, and I was happy to have the chance to pick his brain, even if only for a few minutes.

Among the questions we journalists like to ask in our communities is “How do you get your news?” Greenfield had asked a group of students that very question, and the answers were predictable. Social media was mentioned frequently. But when pressed as to why students did not take advantage of living in an age where there is more information available to them than ever before; why they did not seek out the many venerated, trusted, experienced news sources that continue to work to present thorough and accurate news reports, one young man gave an unsettlingly honest answer.

“I know I should, but I’m just too lazy,” he told Greenfield.

Out of the mouths of … college students …

I know the range of news sources available — and the increasing need to fact-check some of those that blur the lines between news and tribal newsertainment — can be overwhelming. But still it was a bit of a surprise to hear someone acknowledge he is simply unwilling to wade through it all.

Greenfield on the other hand, talked about the news sources he trusts; the multiple publications he reads and news sites he visits each day. He explained his habit of identifying those who make no secret of leaning to the left or right — on their opinion pages — but still work to provide trustworthy reporting. It was interesting to hear his daily news intake detailed, but I couldn’t shake the thought: Who (outside the worlds of academia, politics or journalism) is going to go to all that trouble every day?

I’m beginning to better understand why some folks choose one or two news sources and stick with them, even after it becomes clear one of those sources has veered into the newsertainment/political agenda minefield.

Greenfield told the other students gathered for lunch that today they have the potential to be more informed than any generation in history. The challenge is in deciding to be so. For far too many, it is easier to be led. It is easier to seek out curated newsfeeds that provide only enough detail to confirm biases. The echo chambers created by such limited scope can be dangerous.

Once Greenfield made that point, he took some other questions from students. I had to chuckle. One student asked a very good, but politically charged question. Whether it was because he hadn’t heard the whole question or because he chose not to wade into such territory, Greenfield gave the student a few good sentences that did not at all answer the question asked.

Remember, these were communications and media students. Greenfield may well have done that on purpose. But I thought to myself, welcome to the first of many, kid. This is a difficult job. Doing it right is exhausting. Sources who feel uncomfortable giving away too much detail will make reporters work for “the rest of the story.”

And that’s OK. It’s why we signed up for this. I was encouraged to see so many young people who still want to sign up for it.

Will they be able to keep up their desire to report the whole story? Will they be able to hold their heads above water in a sea of less-than-journalistic options? Of course they will. I know they can. It will be fun to watch them get the chance to do so.

Christina Myer is executive editor of The Parkersburg News and Sentinel. She can be reached via e-mail at cmyer@newsandsentinel.com

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