Our Next Generation of News Consumers Needs to Be Trained.

I’m teaching high school seniors about the news. They know generally what the news is and, by my class’s own reporting, they consume it for 30 or more minutes a day. I learned this and much more about their media habits through a survey they completed on the first day of class.

They all get news from social media. Few consume any legacy media’s offerings. Snapchat and Twitter are popular news sources for them. Aggregation and disruption are foreign concepts to them.

These are a sampling of facts about my class. And I am not here to criticize these 17- and 18-year-olds for their news and media habits. It is my job to meet them where they are at and help them cultivate an understanding of the importance of good journalism, trustworthy and financially sound news organizations, plus how good reporting and writing is done.

During the first few weeks we have talked about their habits and choices of news sources. Some quickly learned that Google and MSN don’t really have journalists; the work that appears in those companies’ feeds comes from completely different publications. The majority of my students don’t pay and say they wouldn’t pay for any news source. Their argument? I’ll find it somewhere else.

We’ve talked, in detail, about the paper of record for the United States: The New York Times. After more than a century and a half of being perhaps the most trusted name in journalism — it started losing money and good journalists. So we discussed where those two necessities were migrating to: new startup companies that were digitally-focused, or unafraid to have their business and editorial sides understand each other’s needs. My students now understand that a paper needs an audience or else there’s no paper.

Which brought us back to the Times. We studied the 2014 innovation report that leaked about NYT’s good, honest look inward and plans for the future. Reading it again, it seemed bleak. Audience Development and Strengthening the Newsroom were the two major prongs of their forward focus, and I emphasized that, above all else, the Times is nothing without its reputation for good, trustworthy journalism.

Everyone’s a publisher these days. That’s, in part, how my students can say that they don’t need to pay for news — someone else will provide it. So we’re watching All the President’s Men. Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, two trained reporters for The Washington Post, are doggedly pursuing more leads and digging deeper into a massive web of corruption that leads all the way up to the man in the highest office in the land: President Richard Nixon.

When we conclude with the film, my point to my students will be this: Not just everyone can do this. Not just everyone knows which leads to chase, which questions to ask, which resources to pore over. It takes people with training and skills, and you’ll only get them to do the dirty work — work that took “Woodstein” more than two years — if you pay them.

This is not readily obvious to young people of today, but it should be. Now, maybe a funding model will come along that can pay enough of these reporters without a subscription model, but until that time comes, it’s a good idea to support quality journalism and subscribe.

From here my class will study media law and ethics. I anticipate some lively debates about the First Amendment, especially in the areas of free speech and freedom of the press. Today’s political environment should create some interesting case studies about that rule of law for the 21st century.

Then for the remainder of the semester we will take a deep dive into reporting, writing, storytelling, digital media and what the future may hold for the field.

But, in my opinion, students need first to be aware of what news is, how it works, how it has changed, and how it gets to them. They need to know that, originally, publishers in the United States had to have licenses to print anything, and printed material was taxed so only the wealthy could buy it. People in power felt it was that important to restrict the public’s access to information.

It may seem like a given today, but knowledge is power, and it’s up to each generation to empower its people.

I suppose, right now, this is my calling.