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A college student talking to an old high school friend through Instant Messaging may send that friend a copy of an interesting article that flashed across the screen. News may not be prime reason for using the Internet but still the Internet is vital for transmitting news and opinion, even of dispatches from war torn areas, or disaster afflicted zones where the conventional media cannot penetrate. In ages past, sitting around the television watching the news may have had other purposes than information -- family togetherness, relaxation, as well, but that did not discount the information received.
Furthermore, the Internet provides a plurality of viewpoints that the three networks and the major city newspapers did not and often still do not provide. One could even make a parallel to the plethora of newspapers of the turn of the century, all biased and slanted and somewhat dubious in fact-checking perhaps (but then again, so is the New York Times) but also truly democratic and partisan in spirit, rather than merely toeing a mainstream party line and ideological line.
Mindich gives short shrift to the Internet perhaps because it is a medium he seems to neither know very well nor understand. It is also a medium that cannot be easily controlled and filtered, unlike conventional fact-checked newspapers and newscasts. Instead, Mindich attacks obvious targets, like the attention given to Britney Spear's midriff in the popular press as an example of how papers have 'dumbed down' the news -- as if young audiences can't read about Britney Spears and Bush's new proposed economic plan in the same sitting. Did the papers of the past not include entertainment news and 'puff pieces'? Did the papers of the past, and the newscasts of the past not also struggle between maintaining high standards and sustaining profits?
While Mindich does use concrete statistics to support his challenge that young people are not voting, he does not ask a crucial journalistic question time and time again, which is why -- why are people under forty feeling so disenfranchised from traditional news organization and media? Yes they have stopped reading, but does this connote a lack of intelligence on their part, or of the media's ability to address their concerns. If only people read newspapers more, Mindich asserts, they would vote more. True, significantly, the declines in voting parallel the declines in news readership. But although the author assumes causality, the two statistics may merely mean together that the print media is not doing enough to support a wide range of voices and opinions in the diverse under-forty demographic.
At very least, the media as well as the under forty crowd is to 'blame' for the decline in viewers and readers. The strongest argument of the author is not that younger people's methods of media consumption are faulty, perhaps, but that the ubiquity of the Internet and blogs has not translated into higher rates of voting. Part of this can as well be attributed to the perceptions of a system that is corrupt and does not speak to individual's concerns. Another fact, also tied to television consumption, may be that younger individuals are less connected to their families and other social networks, and thus have less reason to debate politics and consider political institutions to have a vital impact on their lives.
In this point alone, Mindich may have a point. He notes that many people under forty do not have the opportunity talk about news events with their families as family dinners are a thing of the past. Ironically, however, the increase in televisions may be a reason for this, as families gravitate to the television in silence, or to computers in their room. Thus such social disenfranchisement from the family and 'real life' friends may be causing a sense of civic and community disenfranchisement. But more newspaper readership nor the removal of sitcom stars from the cover of Time will not cure this -- perhaps the reason people read newspapers less is because they feel the news reported has no effect upon their increasingly isolated lives, and only when this is addressed will voting increase.
Mindich, David. Tuned Out: Why Americans under 40 don't…[continue]
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