By Chantal de la Rionda

September 6, 2005

Working in the Office of the Ombudsman has been an enlightening experience in many ways, but perhaps not the ways most NPR enthusiasts would think. Sure, processing complaints and doing internal reviews of biases bring with them their own learning perspectives. For me, the challenge was taking the message of analytical thinking to the streets where these biases have the largest impact.

In this, and future columns, I will address such issues to promote understanding of media (TV, film, news, etc) with a youth perspective. There are few outlets which consistently challenge the audience to think on their own, rather than burying them in condescending images, particularly in movies.

The cinematic scenarios include (but are not limited to) movie scripts where a group of high schoolers’ only interest is getting laid or getting high. Porky’s was funny the first five times. But the seemingly endless repetition of the same story is trite and detrimental because it lowers the standards of what today’s youth are expected to accomplish. This is when I wonder, “At what point does art stop imitating life, and life start imitating American Pie?” The negative habit of consistently underestimating the role today’s youth can play in society is harmful in light of the fact that people learn by perception and observation, as studies of early childhood development have affirmed.

A lot of people may believe this is a habit reserved for entertainment media—but it’s also evident in the 4th grade reading level of newspapers. Frequently, media pervasive in our society coddle the audience, rather than testing young minds and treating them as potentially involved citizens. For example, instead of expecting readers to rise to the scholastic standards of literature, media has begun pandering to the lowest common denominator, not just in the reading level, but content-wise, as well. This is especially significant at a time when TV and print media are watered down to appeal to a younger audience with a shorter attention span, thereby forgoing a deeper investigation for the sake of wider ratings. In this aspect, news networks must broaden its audience, but it must do so without “dumbing down” its content, much in the way movies have. National Public Radio is in a position to do just that. But how?

One complaint that I often hear when talking to other young people about news is how it caters to exclusively to the conservative baby boomer generation. National Public Radio has recognized this stigma, and eventually an attempt was made to entice the 18-35 year old demographic into tuning in by integrating more modern and assorted music between story segments. The music itself is diverse and appropriate; hip and relevant. But as soon as this gradual change on the airwaves took place, older listeners complained on a weekly basis that the music is “too loud,” “too obnoxious,” and most frequently, “too electronic.” Granted, there is no accounting for taste, but here is an observable difference on why NPR may attract a particular demographic, and repel another.

So far, incorporating stories of music and recent style trends have been extremely effective in attracting younger audiences who tune in to hear a story about Ipod casting, and stick around to listen to what the current discussions are between Senate and House majority leaders. It’s a healthy habit to keep future generations of Americans informed, and possibly foster an interest in news in general. As a by-product, the newer formats have begun to eliminate the stigma that NPR is for “old people,” and that the younger generation is “misinformed” or too “self absorbed” to know what’s going on in the news.

It’s for reasons like this that I have chosen to create a forum for young people to appreciate the media they have access to, while also examining the media and critically analyze what they are exposed to on a daily basis—including the news on NPR. So perhaps when observing the billboards, television shows and movies which inundate media consumers everyday, a little time could be taken to reflect on what the implications and motivations are for their abundance, and what that means for intellectual standards of a generation—electronic music and all.

About Us

Next Generation Radio is a series of one-week, student radio training projects co-sponsored by NPR and several journalist and media organizations. The projects are designed to give students who are interested in radio and journalism an opportunity to report and produce their own radio story.

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The next student project
at Burton High school
November 14-19
San Francisco, CA

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