News Editor Christie Chisholm and I faced a gym full of polite but bored-looking ninth-graders a couple weeks ago during South Valley Academy's media day. "Don't be offended if they don't want to answer your questions" warned teachers before we took the podium for a largely question-based presentation. The teenagers listened attentively, a few among the scores of students calling out responses as we asked about their interaction with media.
Our first big group response came to this query: Do you guys trust the media?
Answer, in loud unity: "No!"
Why don't America's teenagers trust their media? I don't know that there's one and only one reason. But as newspaper readers grow old and die, as MySpace bulletins become a primary outlet for news and rumor, it's a question we should all ask ourselves.
Days before the presentation, Chisholm and I began planning. How do teens interact with media? Further, how are they portrayed? We've got an atrocious headline hanging over the intern desk next to mine from the front page of a July 27 Albuquerque Journal. The lead story is titled "Teenagers Prefer Hard Liquor." I was sure we could drum up a few more scandalous teen headlines to open our presentation, a desperate grab for the teens' attention. I figured I'd spend an hour or so scouring local media archives to root out a handful.
Typing "teen" into the Journal and Tribune search engines brought up more than enough negative headlines—nearly all were shocking. Examined in a group, they're tinged with a fear of/for the young:
"Teen Domestic Violence is on the Rise"
"Teen Alcohol Tolerance High"
"One in 11 Teens Abused by Date"
"Albuquerque Teen Arrested in Stabbing of Man, Death of Woman"
"Teen Admits to Moriarty Vandalism"
"Baby 101 for Teen-Age Mothers"
A quick scan of Google News headlines reveals the same. There's no shortage of scary headlines about teens and teenagers. Would you trust the media if most of the stuff written about you served to alienate and belittle you? How can parents and authority figures be expected to maintain an in-touch view of local youth with only fretful, troublesome stories under their noses?
"Why don't you read newspapers?" we asked the South Valley students. This list is short but telling. Newspapers are boring, have few pictures and are only sometimes useful. Most importantly, they are slanted, said the teens.
What do you wish you saw in your newspapers? Girls and skateboarding, replied the jokers. Also on the list: more positive stories, real-life issues and truth.