Wednesday, September 18

Pick up The Bruin, pick it apart

Reader feedback, criticism important to development of newspaper quality

A few days into my internship last summer at a newspaper in San
Bernardino, one of the editors, a veteran in the newspaper industry
for over 50 years, told me that newspapers are a dying business.
What a great way to try and start a career.

His reason? People just don’t read any more. But there I
was, out of my second year and idealistic as heck, being told that
something I’ve worked so hard for, and planned to work even
harder for in the future, was heading toward obsolescence. It
sounded like a reason to stop trying to be a journalist and make
the trade-off to be in a more stable but boring career.

But now I see declining readership across the board as a call to
change ““ and no, it’s not the idealism talking.
Newspapers can change because it happens all the time. The content
and design of a publication can change hours before deadline in
response to current events. The staffs of publications aren’t
slouches; they can change, but they need a direction.

We need that direction from people who already read the Daily
Bruin to help us make it into a paper that would make more people
want to read it regularly. The crosswords are fun, but give the
rest of the paper a shot throughout the year.

The stakes are especially high now; abysmally low percentages of
young people are consuming the news and traditional methods of
presenting the news aren’t working.

According to a 2004 survey conducted by the Pew Research Center
that tracked news consumption, only 23 percent of young adults
between the ages of 18 and 29 said they read a newspaper on a
regular basis. Eighteen percent watch nightly network news, and 29
percent watch nightly cable TV news.

While younger people are relying on the Internet for their news,
Stephen Hess of the Brookings Institution, a Washington-based think
tank that analyzed the results, connects the dearth of news
consumption to low youth voter turnout and said the trends do
“not bode well for civic responsibility.”

A free press should be supported because it’s an
endorsement of our basic rights. And even before young people are
of voting age, the apathy and ignorance of high school students
toward the First Amendment is alarming.

Another study, sponsored by the John S. and James L. Knight
Foundation and released this year, found that about 73 percent of
students either take for granted or have not formed an opinion of
the First Amendment.

Only 51 percent of students felt that newspapers should be
allowed to publish freely without government approval of stories,
compared to 80 percent of teachers.

It’s a dismal picture, but it doesn’t have to be.
With the upcoming special California election in which citizens can
vote on the eight initiatives, reading the news and knowing your
civic duties is more important than ever.

College can be seen as a bubble that insulates us from
“real world,” and that obligations such as school, work
and a social life can take precedence over learning about current
events and reading or watching the news. But what better way to
prepare yourself for the real world than actually knowing what goes
on in it?

It’s not only important to read the Bruin, but read it
critically. Hold the people who produce what you read to high
standards, at least as high as the standards newspapers are
supposed to adhere to.

I have to admit that when a paper highly critical of the Daily
Bruin was started last year by a former Bruin columnist, I was
angry at first.

I don’t know how seriously my colleagues take that paper,
but after my initial angry response, I gave the paper serious
thought. Even though the basis of the paper reeks of a personal
beef, it proved that not only were people reading The Bruin, but
reading it critically, which is what the general readership should
be doing.

It has been the long-standing duty of newspapers to ask
questions of those in charge and hold them to high standards, but
who is supposed to ask questions of the newspaper? Newspapers do it
all the time in the professional industry, but I’d rather
hear from our readership, who can benefit more from the changes.
Let us know if you feel like The Bruin isn’t serving its
readers and tell us what we can do about it.

Lee, the assistant Viewpoint editor (not the assistant to
the Viewpoint editor), can be reached by e-mail at
[email protected] General comments should be sent to
[email protected]

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