Generation gap

So I’ve been reading this book my Dad sent me a few weeks ago.

It’s not that impressive so far (about 100 pages in).  The mentions in the title of MySpace and YouTube seem to have been tacked on in order to sell books, fittingly enough, and the authors make their political alignments clear from the start.

But what I am enjoying are the bits of theory about political re-alignment based on generational changes.

For example, generations are broken down into types:  Civic and Idealistic are two of them.

The Baby Boomers (read as: aging editors, j-school faculty, columnists, and older reporters) are an Idealistic generation, the book tells us.

The Millenials (read as: the young interns and fresh-faced multitaskers causing all sorts of ruckuses in your newsrooms with their blogging and whatnot) are a Civic generation.

The Idealists came of age in the 1960s.  They focus on morals – right and wrong, black and white.  That concentration of resources on debatable and subjective issues (like, say, objectivity) make for a slow moving government (or news organization).  Voters become disillusioned, participation drops, and authority figures are not looked upon kindly.

A Civic generation, on the other hand, like the current Millenials (born between around 1980 and 1994 or so, depending on which reference you consult) or the G.I. Generation, is more pragmatic.  They use new communication technologies to get things done.  They’re committed to political involvement, believe in the system, and participate in great numbers.

(An aside: I’m old enough to qualify for Generation X, the disconnected, disaffected grunge-listeners that fell in between these sexier re-alignment cycles.)

All this is just to say that I do believe age has something to do with innovation, especially when it comes to the news business.

I alluded to some persistent “generational frustration” the other day when I was declaring my independence from a generalization, and then the post wandered away from that notion a bit.

But I’ll say this: I’m excited to see where this Civic generation takes news.

It’s not going to be the same place that the previous generation took it.  This generation’s news will look more like the work of Holovaty and Sites than Woodward and Bernstein, because they’re simply not the same people.

The influences are different, the reasoning is different, the thought process and the toolset are different.  And so is the audience, if we can still call them that for a fleeting moment before the familiar models of storyteller and listener completely and finally break down.

Further reading:

7 Replies to “Generation gap”

  1. As someone who definitely falls into the “Generation X” category, I’m always a bit miffed when we get passed over as a “gap” between the boomers and the millennials.

  2. The generational implications on the news business continue to build. Not only in the consumption of news, which has its own set of issues and challenges, but as you point out, the environment from which the news originates is another compounding issue.

  3. Those archetypes sound like they were ripped off from Howe and Strauss predicted over a decade ago. Fourth Turning is a good book, if a little flighty (The case with all generational studies?).

    And while we’re on generations, if any Xers feel left out, there’s this great point here. Millenials, here’s the counterpoint:

    “You won’t find us wringing our hands about the dissolving borders between public and private life. We’ve never differentiated between the two. Yes, we overshare. But we also don’t drop our monocles every time someone updates their Facebook relationship status.”

    Which brings me back to your post, Ryan. Gen Y/Millennials/Civics/Whatever constantly participate in public and private conversations online, but the technology (like aggregation through search) just make us appear louder because we use the technology to its fullest.

    Which is exactly what the Holovatys and the Sites are doing with the Web.

  4. I think there are two generations between the boomers and the millennials. There is Gen X – those of use who came of age in the late ’70s to ’80s, we aren’t idealistic or civic minded. We’re practical. We are more interested in making things work than in saving the world or remaking it. Then there’s Gen Y – those who came of age from ’88 to 2000. This is basically the slackers. They aren’t idealistic, civic or practical. They just want theirs. They are materialistic, but don’t want to work for it. And you have all four of these groups in the workforce now. What a fine mix.

  5. I’m nearly 50-years old — old enough to have come of age during the Vietnam War, but young enough that the fighting had ended before I was old enough to serve.
    I watched the Watergate hearings after class in high school. I worked in newsrooms where you could still smoke. And I was doing electronic journalism before there was a Web.
    So I tend not to put much emphasis on age as the determining factor in whether one “gets it” or not in new media. Or, as one of the musical heroes of my youth said, “I belong to the Blank Generation, and I can take it or leave it each time.”

  6. I’m also a few years short of 50 and switched from print to the online world four years ago, and feel more energized than ever despite the tribulations at major news organizations.

    You don’t have to be a “digital native” — I really do hate such designations — to be willing to embrace digital media. It’s the hardest thing to do, but if I can do it, anyone can do it.

    And I’m still enough of a curmudgeon to cast a critical eye toward the online realm when I think it’s necessary. Especially when “digital triumphalists” — to use another phrase I detest — think they have all the answers. And that they’re the only ones who can “save” journalism.

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