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May 8, 2007

The kids are alright, an addendum

John Stoehr

Excellent, excellent post, Jennifer. It really resonates with me. I started to respond in the comments section but realized my comment was getting too long. So I decided to make a post out of it. Perhaps you have started a string of posts, so relevant to our times is the subject.

I have felt for some time that there is an "ageist" mentally at work in arts philanthropy circles. This mentality is also at work in many of the newsrooms we work in or work with.

Case in point is the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's recent decision to separate its web product from its print product, the former being a place for breaking news and pop culture-oriented items aimed at a younger generation of readers and the latter being for longer, investigative and narrative pieces aimed at an older, more educated generation.

What's implicit in this calculus is that young people aren't interested in in-depth, investigative and narrative pieces. Why? Because the conventional wisdom says that kids these days are not interested in that kind of stuff. They want pop and glitz and whiz-bang news.

Which is true, no doubt. But I grew up in the Me-Decade, when video killed the radio star. In the 1980s. I watched loads of TV, consumed every middle-market movie you can think of and never read a newspaper until I was in college. Then I discovered a world that was far more complex and varied and colorful and interesting than the surface-level media I had grown up with. There was suddenly a world of ideas in publications like the New York Times, Harper's, the Atlantic Monthly and the New York Review of Books. Even the Buffalo News, the dominant newspaper of my childhood, had a robust critical voice (back then, anyway) that was compelling.

Most of all, there was good writing, stuff you really wanted to read.

I am a fan of YouTube, MySpace, multimedia and so on. But that cannot and will never replace the power of language and the power of ideas and good storytelling. I think its a good thing the AJC is recognizing different audiences with different needs, but I think it also should track its readers as it implements these changes. The notion that only older readers will be interested in its print product is a misconception. A print product that's well-written (and timely, interesting, exhaustively reported etc.) will always be relevant.

There's the rub, however: well-written. As we all know, there are bright spots of good writing in newspapers, some in unexpected places. But there's also a dearth of good writing (to be sure, I include myself in this white-wash statement), and there will only be more of it as reporters and editors are asked to do more and more with fewer resources and less time.

Newspapers need to recognize the value of good writing and good writers as they transform themselves for the future. Magazines like the New Yorker, GQ and Vanity Fair haven't lasted this long because they had great pictures (though that's a large part of it). They have survived because of their commitment to, and willingness to pay for, good writers.

Posted by John Stoehr at May 8, 2007 9:45 AM

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