By Mark Luckie
But the young panelists, along with Alex Foster, a 7th grade student from Fairfax, Va., agreed to tear themselves away from technology for an hour to share their daily lives and news habits with a crowd full of inquisitive adults at the ONA conference.
The panelists confessed that at any give time they are checking e-mail, text messaging, playing games, reading blogs, Facebooking, scanning RSS feeds, or listening to podcasts, often at the same time.
“That’s not too much,” said King, a 15-year-old high school student from Washington, D.C. “It’s not as complicated as you think it would be.”
But for adults who did not grow up surrounded by technology, the vast opportunities for communication may seem daunting, said 20-year-old American University senior Mary Specht.
“We don’t understand why you guys don’t get it,” she said.
Wu, 16, of Silver Spring, Md., said her mother frequently asks for help with what she perceived as the simplest tasks: getting directions and turning on the TV.
“I don’t know how she goes about her life,” she said.
The room filled with nervous laughter when none of the young people admitted to reading traditional newspapers in print form. One journalist was concerned that reading RSS feeds exclusively would stifle discovery of “the broader picture.”
“I’m not trying to get a broader picture, I’m trying to get what I want,” King retorted.
Wu suggested media companies should remember their target audience and tailor the news to their tastes.
One audience member asked what newspapers could do to get younger readers to digest more complicated issues. The youth agreed that their peers would read what they wanted to read, but newspapers could do more to explain the issues and break them down into easier-to-read sections.
Specht suggested journalists take notes from Slate, one of her favorite news sites.
“Slate gets the right idea of how young people read news,” Specht said. Its ‘sub-headlines’ and smaller paragraphs make for easy reading, she said.
Most of the panelists got quick bites of news through RSS feeds from sites like the Washington Post, Yahoo! and Google. But they rarely visited the home page of a newspaper site.
“I don’t have to filter through what I want,” said King, who often checks tech news sites like CNET.
Though most of the group read blogs or message boards, they still value information from credible sources—something they get from larger, mainstream newspapers. But it must be short and it must be free.
“If you pay for something online you’re a sucker,” said Specht.
With so many vehicles for information, moderator Jennifer Carroll, vice president of new media content for Gannett, was concerned that the technology may become overwhelming. But Wu quickly put her at ease.
“The technology is never too much—unless it overloads your computer.”
Want to know more? Additional information on the panel and panelists here.