Teens not tuned into the news

After 9/11, some observers suggested that the clash between the West and Islamic extremists would foster a generation of more politically active and civicly engaged young people. Unfortunately, a new study doesn't offer much encouragement (h/t Romenesko).

From Reuters:

War and politics are largely ignored by American teenagers, according to a Harvard University study released on Tuesday, which found that 60 percent of them pay little attention to daily news.

Researchers interviewed 1,800 people between January and March and found that 28 percent of Americans between the ages of 12 and 17 said they pay almost no attention to news every day. Another 32 percent said they pay only casual attention to one news source a day.

"News is not something that gets a lot of time or attention or interest from teens," said Thomas Patterson, a professor of government and the press at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government.

Among people aged 18 to 30, the poll found 48 percent said they are inattentive to daily news. Only 23 percent of older Americans said they largely ignore news.

In general, soft stories about celebrities interest young people more than hard news stories like congressional votes or developments in Iraq.

One reason teenagers may pay less attention to news than older Americans is only one in 20 young people rely heavily on a daily newspaper, according to the survey, which had a margin of error of 2 percent to 3 percent.

Another big part of the problem is how television news -- the greatest source of information for most people -- has a shrinking commitment to political coverage, even though broadcasters reap huge bucks from political advertising. 

As the author of the new study told me when I wrote in 2002 about decreasing political coverage on TV:

Thomas E. Patterson, co-director of the Vanishing Voter Project at Harvard's Kennedy School and the author of The Vanishing Voter: Public Involvement in an Age of Uncertainty (Alfred A. Knopf, 2002), faults broadcasters for surrendering their professional responsibility by cutting political coverage -- other than that of scandals -- through the '90s. "I think they were driven almost entirely by the marketplace, by commercial considerations, and didn't give much of a damn about professional responsibility and public-service obligations," Patterson says. "They can kind of blame it on the audience and on the politicians, but in fact the root change was . . . profit-seeking."

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