Tuned Out: Why Americans under 40 Don't Follow the News

Tuned Out: Why Americans under 40 Don't Follow the News

Tuned Out: Why Americans under 40 Don't Follow the News

Tuned Out: Why Americans under 40 Don't Follow the News


At a rate never before seen in American history, young adults are abandoning traditional news media. Tuned Out: Why Americans Under 40 Don't Follow the Newsexamines the reasons behind this problem and its consequences for American society. Author David T. Z. Mindich speaks directly to young people to discover why some tune in while others tune out--and how America might help them tune back in.
Based on discussions with young adults from across the United States, Mindich investigates the decline in news consumption over the past four decades. In 1972, 74% of Americans in their mid-30s said they read a newspaper every day. Today, fewer than 28% do so. The average viewer age at CNN is currently about 60 years old. And while many point to the Internet as the best hope for rekindling interest in the news, only 11% of young people list the news as a major reason for logging on--entertainment, e-mail, and Instant Messenger are ranked far higher on their list. Exploring the political, journalistic, and social consequences of this decrease in political awareness, Mindich poses the question: What are the consequences of two successive generations tuning out? He asserts that as young adults abandon the kinds of news needed to make political decisions, they have unwittingly ceded power to their elders. In an engaged and intelligent way, Mindich outlines these problems and proposes real solutions.
An indispensable resource for anyone interested in media or politics,Tuned Out: Why Americans Under 40 Don't Follow the Newsis also ideal for undergraduate and graduate students in journalism, media, communication, political science, American studies, sociology, and education.


The thesis of this book, that young people have largely abandoned traditional news, was not one that I pursued. Instead, it came to me, like a news flash, as I was teaching a class one afternoon in January 2001. On that day, the first of the semester in Media Law and Ethics, I distributed an informal quiz to test students’ background knowledge of the law. I had reason for optimism. These particular students were among the best and brightest in a top department in a selective college. And it was an excellent time to ask students about politics and the law: The Supreme Court had just halted the 2000 presidential election and the hearings to confirm John Ashcroft as attorney general were well underway.

The results were startling. Of 23 students, 18 could not identify even one Supreme Court justice. Only one could name the attorney general nominee. Most revealing of all, four wrote that the attorney general nominee was Colin Powell; it is likely they homed in on the word “general,” reflecting a total ignorance of what an attorney general is or does. Later, as I conducted interviews with young people across the country—from New Orleans to Boston to Kansas City to Los Angeles to Burlington—I discovered that this first group of students was not less informed than their peers; in fact, they were more tuned in than most.

Young people have always had a lot on their mind that has nothing to do with news. But in the 1950s and 1960s, young people were nearly as informed about news and politics as their elders were. This has changed dramatically. This book will show that the average 20-something is getting far less news from newspapers, television, radio, and, yes, even the Internet, than you could ever imagine. In addition, more 30-somethings are getting less news than ever before, too. The decline in news consumption, which has taken place over the past four decades, has produced two generations of young adults who, for the most part, have barely an outline of what they need to make an informed decision in the voting booth.

The decline in news consumption begs a number of interesting questions. What makes some young people tune out and some tune in? How has the balance between entertainment and news shifted over time? What are young peo-

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