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Monday, Sep 3, 2007


Okay, we’re ready. The bib is in place and the rising bile has been settled. We’re prepared for our plate of humble pie, and can’t wait to gobble down that big steaming bowl of crow. Unlike other film sites that strive to be all knowing and omniscient, we’re capable of admitting when we’re wrong. We try to read the tea leaves Tinsel Town tosses us, but the heady aroma can occasionally intoxicate our sensibilities. At the beginning of the Summer, SE&L predicted that the following five films would be the season’s most specious – Live Free or Die Hard, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry, Underdog, and The Invasion. In the realm of uncovering crud, it was a glorified gamble – especially when you consider that Summer in general is a time for just such predicable popcorn pabulum. Still, we gave it a shot, and are ready to take our misguided medicine. 


In retrospect, we did fairly well. Based on an overall tally of critical and commercial accounting, we were four out of five. Only Live Free managed to be a straightforward success. Now, before you get into a snit and start spouting statistics and box office returns, there is more to a flop than mere finances. No, a movie can be artistically bankrupt, or so slight that it warrants very little cinematic consideration or merit. By taking into consideration consensus, plus perspective, it’s clear that our helping of humility will be on the decidedly small size. Granted, the one we missed was about as big a bungle as one’s motion picture savvy can take, yet the remaining rejects argued for our crackerjack clairvoyance. And remember – this is not a rundown of the season’s best/worst. That will be coming later. So save your Spider-man venom and Halloween hate for another couple days.


Instead, let’s revisit each choice individually, to see how psychic – or stupid – we were:


Live Free or Die Hard
Box Office Returns: $134 million domestic/ $354 million worldwide
Rotten Tomato Rating: 80%
SE&L’s Prediction – Off by a Couple Million Miles


We got this wrong. Dead wrong. And in retrospect, there was really no excuse for our lack of insight. We bought the buzz. We drank the messageboard Kool-aid on the PG-13 parameters, the poorly realized script, and the lack of faith in Len Underworld Wiseman. And we got punked. Hosed. Hoisted onto our own prophetic petard. At the end of the day, this may not have been the old school actioner everyone hoped for, but it was a dazzling update on the franchise, and a stellar selection of stunt set-pieces. Heck, even Kevin Smith was good. In some ways, this rock-‘em sock-‘em reinvention could be the beginning of Die Hard 2.0. If Willis is willing, it would be interesting to see other directors take on the Mclane vs. Mayhem formula.

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer
Box Office Returns: $131 million domestic/ $274 million worldwide
Rotten Tomato Rating: 36%
SE&L’s Prediction – Bordering between exaggerated and exact.


If ever a series was saved by the introduction of a novel new character, it would be this sloppy sequel to the equally unimaginative F4 original. Nothing about this retake corrected the problems of the past – Reed Richards’ abilities still look CGI fake, Johnny Storm is just a jerk, his sister Sue is a cipher, and The Thing resembles a bad amusement park character. But thanks to the T-100 tendencies of the title entity, we wind up with a film that’s almost half good, instead of all bad. We predicted a catastrophe, and instead, only got a genial piece of junk, watchable, and not a complete waste of time. Audience and critics seemed to disagree with such an assessment, however. Still, here’s hoping the Surfer only project sees the light of day.

I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry
Box Office Returns: $115 million domestic/ $123 million worldwide
Rotten Tomato Rating: 14%
SE&L’s Prediction – Right on the Mediocre Money


God, how AWFUL was this abortive pretend comedy? How smug and stupidly misguided. Even if it wasn’t based on some crappy Paul Hogan hokum (guess the courts may end up deciding that) it sure feels like something ripped out of Crocodile Dundee’s derrière. Don’t let the appearance of Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor’s name on the screenplay fool you. Rumor has it their script was flushed by Sandler and his staff in favor of more anti-gay slurs. If Mel Brooks taught us anything with film’s like Blazing Saddles, it’s that you can be crass and politically incorrect, as long as you’re smart and satiric in the process. Here, all we have is deplorable dopiness. Even though it barely breached the $100 million mark, that’s no indication of actual success. We believed it would embarrass, and humiliate it did.

Underdog
Box Office Returns: $37 million domestic only
Rotten Tomato Rating: 13%
SE&L’s Prediction – Accurate, if not exactly fair


It’s clear that after a month in theaters, families aren’t flocking to see this misguided update of the cartoon cur – and the reasons are rather obvious. Disney does its usual toothless job of trying to jerryrig this one note joke into a clever superhero spoof. Even worse, they decided to desecrate the good name of the original animated show along the way. Frankly, the film’s not THAT bad. It’s soulless and silly, but the Jason Lee voiced beagle is actually kind of cute. The House of Mouse could have made their own take on the subject matter, scuttled all the Underdog referencing, and come out with a decent little diversion. Instead, they were hoping to corral some of that dwindling Baby Boomer cash by tapping into some manner of negligible nostalgia. SE&L smelled a dog – and we were more or less right.

The Invasion
Box Office Returns: $12 million domestic/ $13 million worldwide
Rotten Tomato Rating: 20%
SE&L’s Prediction – Right on the Mediocre Money


It’s never a good sign when a movie is retooled by reshoots. Adding insult to obvious injury, the original director of this dung didn’t get to foster the fixes. Such a bifurcated approach, accented by a dismal take on some otherwise potent allegory fodder, resulted in one lax, lumbering movie. Nicole Kidman is completely wrong for the role of agitated outsider. She’s more ice queen than activist. Daniel Craig is relegated to playing possum, and the rest of the cast is practically non-existent. Even worse, there’s no real villainy here. The aliens don’t have a master plan beyond rendering everyone on Earth benign. After that, their motives are meaningless. So loss of emotion is our clash catalyst. Not the greatest reason for a war of the worlds. Figuring this would fail was obvious – by how much is still amazing.


Sorry We Didn’t Warn You
Looking back, especially with the tentative 20/20 vision of such hindsight, SE&L slipped up and forgot to mention a few apparent atrocities in the making. While we apologize for failing in our early warning ways, we can still step up and do a little backseat driving. Had we been in our right mind, and remembered that entire list of Summer’s specials, we might have had these half-baked hunks of cinematic sludge as part of our previous piece. But again, we dropped the ball, so kindly give us a break. This trio of tripe should have been part of the prognostication:


Rush Hour 3


Perhaps we gave Jackie Chan too much credit. Maybe Chris Tucker’s cultural disappearing act clouded our memory of his motor-mouthed mediocrity. It could also be a case of Brett Ratner redeeming himself with decent efforts like Red Dragon and X-Men: The Last Stand. Whatever it is, SE&L let this one slip under the radar, and we’re the worse for wear because of it. This atrociously unfunny effort has officially killed the buddy pic.


Shrek The Third


Maybe we missed the memo, but when was it announced that the Shrek franchise was about to become the Lord of the Rings of the retarded. This never ending series is starting to show some major wear, and this uninspired middle act is a perfect illustration of such slippage. Lacking anything close to context, it’s just a bunch of riffs and pop culture references tossed together, treading water until Part 4 comes along.


El Cantante


If she hadn’t done so before, Jennifer Lopez has formally destroyed her remaining box office credibility. This misguided biopic of salsa superstar Hector Lavoe decides to forego its central subject to focus almost exclusively on the musician’s manic wife, played in full shrew mode by you know who. Lopez is so stifling, so prickly and problematic that you wish it was her character that was doomed to die. Marc Anthony was actually good. His supposed better half proved poisonous.


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Monday, Sep 3, 2007

My reports are written from Sydney, Australia, and this week there are banners up around the city (with a Microsoft logo at the bottom!) that say “21 World Leaders, 1 Great City.” World leaders are gathering for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation conference. China’s leader Hu Jintao is already here, George Bush flies in tonight, and in the Sydney Morning Herald today Paul Keating, who was Australian Prime Minister during the 1990’s, explains why Russian leader Vladimir Putin is included. The quirks and strange specificity of trade and diplomatic agreements make sense when they’re written but the promises or threats that inspire their creation mutate over time and no longer adequately cover the original intent, and so India isn’t a part of the APEC group. Due to a peculiar rule of new countries being added every ten years India may be at the next APEC gathering, but its omission, now, seems a great absence. Thinking of India reminded me of the importance of that part of the world, and Pankaj Mishra’s illuminating and tenderly respectful books and magazine articles about his travels through Nepal, Kashmir, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, often during turbulent times. His new book, to be released later this year, I think, is based on his recent travels and lifelong interest in China.


“I have been interested in China for a long time, and I feel I ought to know more about it,” he said in an interview last year. “People talk of India and China in tandem now. Much is made of their rise as superpowers. And, yes, both countries have ambitious middle classes longing for international recognition. But I am not sure if the two countries have sorted out the great social, political and environmental problems that they face. Or have reckoned fully with their ancient traditions in their search for a suitable modernity. I think many of this century’s big questions are going to be addressed in these two countries, and I feel I have neglected learning about China for far too long.”


Pankaj Mishra’s An End to Suffering: The Buddha in the World is a mix of travelogue, memoir, journalism, and a reconstruction of the life of the person who may have been the Buddha, from what can be reconstructed, and from the perspective of Western writers being inspired and influenced by Buddhism. Published in 2004 it remains a strong, clear, fresh and wise view of a troubled and misunderstood region of the world. The Indian author Pankaj Mishra lived in the small towns that the Buddha travelled through and lived in, and also Dharamsala, the home in exile of the Dalai Lama. But while he was there he read Western authors and was particularly inspired by the American critic Edmund Wilson. “An End to Suffering” is a small miracle, a book to constantly re-read. In an interview for the Loggernaut Series, he was asked to what extent his insights are personal, and to what extent they have a wider cultural reach.


Mishra: It has been easier for me to have a more complex idea of life in the West. But I think one of the problems we continue to suffer from is that despite the Internet and cable TV, growing numbers of writers, and improved communication systems, people in the West still don’t know enough about how people live in the rest of the world—they still depend on simple concepts of Islam, Muslims, Hinduism etc. So concepts replace the reality of lived lives, real people, and these concepts promote great misunderstanding. That’s where the role of writers is even more important than it used to be.


The Believer Magazine asked Pankaj Mishra what he thinks the different responsibilities of the reporter, novelist, and essayist are.


PM: Well, I feel the responsibility of the novelist is to create a very complex world populated by very complex individuals and to deepen that as much as possible. I don’t think the responsibility of the reporter or journalist is fundamentally different, but I think the reporter or journalist is well served by having a responsibility to the powerless, to use a much-abused cliché. The voice of the powerless is in some danger of not being heard in the elite discourses we now have in the mainstream media. This is something that I’ve learned late. Obviously, I write for a very elite audience, but is there something else that I’m also responsible to? People who write about issues like poverty or terrorism are a part of the elite, and the distance between the elite and nonelite is growing very fast. You can move around the world but meet only people who speak your language, who share the same ideas, the same beliefs, and in doing so you can lose sight of the fact that the vast majority of the world does not think or believe in or speak the everyday discourse of the elite. Yet their lives are being shaped by these elites, by people like us. I don’t mean this in a pompous way, but we have a responsibility to articulate their sense of suffering.


 


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Monday, Sep 3, 2007

Alice Leccese Powers looks back at Alice McDermott’s The Night in this week’s “You Must Read This” on NPR. Powers considers the book an exploration into her own childhood on Long Island, and that the McDermott “claims Long Island her territory, just as surely as Faulkner’s was Mississippi.”


I read The Night in 1992, shortly before the movie version hit VHS. My friends and I loved C. Thomas Howell in those pants, and Juliette Lewis in that skirt, and we knew how Alice felt in her worship of their characters, Rick and Sheryl. We idolised them, too. At that time, alongside Where the Day Takes You, That Night was the movie we most wanted to inhabit. But our reaction to the film, and my reaction to the book, were markedly different to Powers’. Growing up in suburban Long Island was, quite literally, worlds away from rural Victoria. Us rural kids really didn’t have a romantic rebel to drool over, or a beautiful, misunderstood urchin to emulate. Neighbors didn’t interact, and folks generally stayed out of each others’ business. We went to school, we went home, and we waited to grow up.


No one was writing about our experiences—the sun-drenched Goulburn Valley was no one’s idea of fertile literary territory,  and so we adopted Sheryl and Rick as our own, and we talked about them, dissected their personalities, and stuck their pictures in frames—a far more intimate form of tribute that simply pinning their posters to the wall.


In our minds, the world was just like McDermott’s. We didn’t long for disaffected teens to get pregnant just so we could awe at them, but we wanted heroes, boys and girls who stood out, because no one stood out in our town. So, while Powers remembers That Night as representative of her experience, I remember it as opening my friends and I up to experiences we would otherwise never have known existed. Even though we didn’t see them, there were rebels out there, and our time would come. 


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Sunday, Sep 2, 2007


Jerry Lewis remains an elusive cinematic figure. For most, he’s a joke, the punchline to a slam on the foolish French, or the kooky caricature of a nerd screeching “HEY LAAAAADY!” at the top of their nasal voice. Others have a more proper perspective, recognizing both his work with former partner Dean Martin (they remain the biggest phenomenon and unquantifiable gold standard in the now dead art of night club entertainment) and his tireless efforts on behalf of muscular dystrophy (summed up by this weekend’s telethon). But when it comes to film, especially those he’s personally written and directed, he stays a fool, a jester as jerk de-evovling the artform into nothing more than senseless silly slapstick. It doesn’t matter that Lewis authored one of the standard textbooks on the craft (The Total Film-Maker, 1971), or conceived technical innovations that revolutionized the production process.


Few see that he’s actually a bridge between the old fashioned chuckles of Hollywood’s Golden Era and the more experimental, existential humor of the post-modern period. Instead, he seems forever fated to be the dopey dude who takes the pratfall and pulls his face like putty – that’s all. Sadly, such a sentiment diminishes a great deal of very good work. While it’s true that Lewis lacks contextual sophistication – especially when it comes to subject matter and storyline – he is a procedural and visionary marvel. Thanks to a famous collaboration with Warner Brothers animator turned director Frank Tashlin (who’s really the aesthetic lynchpin for the look of most Lewis films) and his own turns in the creator’s chair, we can witness the rise, fall, and unjust dismissal of an amazing artist.


We begin by ignoring his first two solo efforts – the oddly dark The Delicate Delinquent (nothing more than a Martin and Lewis project gone sour) and the military farce The Sad Sack (good, but not quite there). After that, we can trace his talent, his tenacity, and his tendency toward self-indulgence. Hopefully, this will paint a better, more believable portrait of Jerry Lewis, an image beyond the frog-mouthed braying and the pantomime typewriter routines. For all his flaws, his hubris and his ego, the man could really make movies. The proof lies in the following list of legitimate cinematic statements, starting with:


Rock-a-Bye Baby (1958) (with director Frank Tashlin)
For many this stands as the first ‘legitimate’ Jerry Lewis film. It’s not a leftover from his partnership with Martin, and marks the moment when Tashlin’s cartoon conceit steps in. It becomes the standard for most of the comedian’s work for the next two decades. While sappy and saccharine, it’s also the start of greater things to come.


The Geisha Boy (1958) (with director Frank Tashlin)
While far from politically correct (watch out for lots of slant eyed Asian awkwardness) and hitting, again, on the “Lewis with a foundling” formula that would guide his initial output, this otherwise ordinary film represents something miserable, not memorable.


The Bellboy (1960)
After the routine returns of Don’t Give Up the Ship and Visit to a Small Planet, Lewis was looking for a way to express himself without the interference of studio stooges who didn’t understand his style. In the meantime, Paramount wanted to save his upcoming Cinderfella for the Fall. So during a nightclub appearance in Miami, he made an agreement with the studio to create this on the fly homage to silent slapstick comedy. It became Lewis’s breakthrough. It also marks the introduction of ‘video assist’ – the use of video playback to allow a director to test how a scene plays and how the compositions work. Yes, Lewis is credited for creating the now-obligatory tool.


Cinderfella (1960) (with director Frank Tashlin)
Tashlin’s take on the classic fairytale is so weepy and maudlin that it’s hard to believe that anyone thought it would be a sizeable hit. But because of his stature as a legitimate solo superstar (eclipsing his previous partner many times over), Lewis’s career in front of the camera was now secured. His next effort would establish his prowess behind the lens as well.


The Ladies Man (1961)
It remains a monumental achievement in set design and art direction. Throwing his weight around as a box office behemoth, Lewis demanded and received an entire Paramount soundstage to create what is, essentially, an entire four story house complete with grand concourse, spiral staircases, open walled bedrooms, and an old fashioned elevator running up the side. It was a massive masterpiece of a playset, and Lewis made the most of it. Visually, Man is amazing. Unfortunately, the comedy is a tad forced, relying more on small moments than the epic environment created.


The Errand Boy (1961)
As a love letter to the studio that stood by him, Lewis made this simplistic silliness. Standing as one of his true classic comedies, this skewering of Hollywood hubris in combination with the filmmaker’s fleet footed physical shtick resulted in a creative combination that would underscore his next few films. Tinsel Town never took such a well-intentioned tweaking.


It’$ Only Money (1962) (with director Frank Tashlin)
Relatively forgotten, even among Lewis fans, this oddball detective farce – Lewis is a TV repairman and alongside a shifty private dick, get caught up in the search for a rich family’s missing heir – is one of the funnyman’s forgotten gems. Tashlin really amplifies his anarchic style, and Lewis looses himself in the relatively low key role. Instead of playing to the audience, he’s playing FOR them.


The Nutty Professor (1963)
Without a doubt, this stands as one of comedy’s major cinematic milestones. By riffing on his relationship with ex-partner Martin (who Buddy Love is obviously mirrored after) and putting to use every kind of cleverness imaginable, we get a wonderful whirlwind of dopiness and deftness. Lewis actually plays CHARACTERS here, not just weird variations of his own stick boy persona, and the emotional underpinning of the relationship with Stella Purdy is heartfelt and very human. Granted, this satiric Jekyll and Hyde has its slack sequences, but if you wonder what keeps Lewis part of the motion picture equation, even four decades later, this fantastic film is the answer.


Who’s Minding the Store? (1963) (with director Frank Tashlin)
After Professor, another go round with Tashlin seemed like a step backward. Still, Store is fun, using the premise (Lewis is a clerk put through the ringer by an owner who doesn’t want him marrying her daughter) to explore some major spectacle set pieces. It’s hit or miss, but there’s more to love than loathe in the end. 


The Patsy (1964)
Often cited as one of Lewis’s more cynical films, this droll look at celebrity and the shallowness of fame is, in reality, on par with Professor as a certifiable sensation. A dynamite combination of silent film gags, pop culture spoof (see Ed Sullivan mock himself!), and insightful evisceration into the cult of personality, it’s a brilliant, brazen farce.


The Disorderly Orderly (1964) (with director Frank Tashlin)
For his last film with Tashlin, Lewis resorts to stereotyping – that is, merely playing a version of the klutzy character he perfected in The Bellboy and The Errand Boy. Still, Disorderly is a surreal bit of insanity. It’s a cookie-cutter confection that only wants to entertain. And it definitely does so in small, sublime doses.


The Family Jewels (1965)
Marking the end of an era in more ways than one, this unfunny flop would represent the last time Lewis worked within such a cartoonish carelessness. Playing seven separate roles (the film focuses on a butler – Lewis – looking to place an orphaned girl with one of six specious Uncles – again, all Lewis). Some may marvel at the extensive use of split screen, and the attempt to distinguish the ridiculous relatives by outrageous make-up and costume conceits, but by going back to the days of fostering wee ones, Lewis seemed to suggest that he needed such a crutch to remain relevant.


Three on a Couch (1966)
Attempting to make the leap into more ‘adult oriented fare’, many feel Lewis succeeded with this sincere psychobabble. Again playing multiple roles (the plot has the clown wooing the man-hating patients of his psychiatrist fiancé so the pair can vacation in Paris), we get the battle of the sexes circa the swinging ‘60s. Unfortunately, the envelope pushing concepts of gender politics and free love are nowhere to be found. In many ways, this film’s view of relationships is so conservative it would make ‘50s suburbanites smile.


The Big Mouth (1967)
Here it is - the last straw in the lumbering Lewis legacy. After the failure of two films made without his direct input – the sci-fi stupidity of Way…Way Out! and the British bunk Don’t Raise the Bridge, Lower the River – Lewis retook the reigns of his motion picture product. The result was this horrendous, mean-spirited mess. Overstuffed with stereotypes (including more mandatory Oriental awfulness) and painfully unfunny, it signaled the final nail on the comedian’s almost closed creative coffin.


Which Way to the Front? (1970)
After once again failing to connect both as an actor (in the mediocre Hook, Line and Sinker) and director for hire (the Peter Lawford,/Sammy Davis Jr. vehicle One More Time), Lewis was desperate to revive his cinematic fortunes. With such war-oriented comedies as The Russians are Coming, The Russians are Coming and Start the Revolution Without Me creating significant buzz, Lewis jumped into the genre with both feet. The plot involved a rich army reject desperate to battle Hitler’s Nazi nogoodniks, and there’s a lot of attempted anarchy here. Most of the movie is inert, however.


Hardly Working (1980)
After his attempt at a semi-serious Holocaust drama was sidetracked by funding issues and a creative concern for the actual material (more on this in a moment), Lewis left filmmaking. He claimed he was angered when he saw one of his films playing on a double bill with the then popular porn film Deep Throat, and announced he was no longer “in tune” with the crass concerns of the industry. After a decade out of the moviemaking limelight, Lewis released this ‘comeback’ effort, a collection of cobbled together vignettes centering on a schlub who just can’t stay employed. Varying wildly between good and grating, the result was deemed a dud by a savvier motion picture marketplace. Lewis again blamed everyone but himself, and regrouped. He still had one more aged Ace up his sleeve.


Cracking Up (1983)
Though he would spend the rest of his career playing character parts (and quite well – his work in both Martin Scorsese’s King of Comedy and the TV series Wiseguy were performance epiphanies), Lewis longed to be a big screen buffoon once again. Hoping to avoid the flaws of Working, he brought in old script collaborator Bill Richmond (who had worked with the actor on several of his seminal hits). The result was a weirdly uneven effort that still manages to be uproariously funny. Though he was about as old as the material he was mining, Lewis proved that no one understood this kind of craziness better than he. Sadly, physical limitations and demographic denial prevented any further films.


The Day the Clown Cried (Unfinished)
For a long time, this rumored fiasco acted as an artistic albatross around Lewis’s neck – and with good reason. As Roberto Benigni proved with his painfully insulting Holocaust comedy Life is Beautiful, some subjects can’t stand up to dimwitted dopiness. Clearly, the killing of six million Jews by Hitler during World War II is one of them. Still, Lewis believed he had stumbled onto something substantive when he discovered Joan O’Brien’s novel about an imprisoned clown employed by the Nazi’s to entertain little children as they were sent off to the gas chambers. True, there is a queasy quality of tastelessness when matched up against Lewis’s love of all things overdone and overbroad, but it’s quite possible that he could have pulled this off. Naturally, those who’ve seen a rough cut have argued for its awfulness, but if a stunted Italian gimmick can get audiences to appreciate his jesting snuff stuff, why couldn’t Lewis? Sadly, it appears this will merely remain fodder for further mythologizing, nothing more. 


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Sunday, Sep 2, 2007

By Chris Justice

There’s nothing new about the news.


Dispatches of doom and gloom about the newspaper industry and its failure to attract young readers in the 18-30-year-old age group are rampant. Consider these headlines: “Newspapers Should Really Worry,” “Young Adults Are Giving Newspapers Scant Notice,” and “Goodbye to Newspapers?”.


Photograph by Zioluc (at Flickr)

Photograph by Zioluc (at Flickr)


A new wave of related articles recently surfaced due to a mid-July report released by The Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. According to The New York Times coverage of that survey, “The results were especially grim for newspapers. Only 16 percent of the young adults surveyed aged 18 to 30 said that they read a newspaper every day and 9 percent of teenagers said that they did. That compared with 35 percent of adults over 30. Furthermore, despite the popular belief that young people are flocking to the Internet, the survey found that teenagers and young adults were twice as likely to get daily news from television than from the Web.”


Is this really news? And more importantly, what does it mean? I sometimes teach journalism courses, and I don’t read a newspaper daily, but I do consume lots of news daily. According to these numbers, only one-third of the adults surveyed read a newspaper daily. That seems exponentially more disturbing and revealing and speaks volumes about the newspapers themselves, not today’s youth. Reports like these also carry a condescending tone that suggests younger people are, subsequently, becoming more illiterate, and that since younger people don’t read newspapers, they probably don’t read much at all. The problem with these claims is that they’re horribly false, and these surveys appear as subjective and arbitrary as some of today’s reporters.


For example, according to this USA Today article, which cited a Newspaper Association of America study and was published when the Harvard study’s data was being compiled, “The average number of monthly visitors to U.S. newspaper websites rose by nearly a third in the first half of 2006…Overall, newspaper websites helped drive a 15-percent increase in the total newspaper audience for 25- to 34-year olds and a 10-percent increase for 18- to 24-year olds.” The Seattle-Post Intelligencer reported in March 2007 that not only are teens nationwide reading more, but the books they’re reading are more sophisticated.


Sure, it’s not a newsflash that younger people are reading fewer print newspapers. That is a nationwide trend consistent with most populations. However, to report the whole story, one must acknowledge the many streams of data indicating that younger people are consuming news and reading more diverse texts including Websites, graphic novels, and blogs. The type of news they’re consuming is changing, but they are consuming it.


Considering that enrollment in the nation’s journalism schools during the past several years continues to grow, one reason why fewer young people are consuming traditional news products is probably because they’re too busy managing and producing their own. And one reason why more 20-somethings are studying journalism is because they’re tired of the status quo in today’s old media: stale technologies; backdoor partisan slants; boring writing; limited minority and female voices, especially in board rooms; and an increasingly more troublesome neglect of youthful topics. 


Commenting on that Harvard study, Larry Atkins in The Christian Science Monitor wrote “Hungry for younger readers, newspapers should embrace their voices,” an editorial that begins with this important question: “Why is it that every time an issue concerning young people arises, the newspaper op-eds commenting on those issues are almost always written by people in their 40s, 50s, or 60s?” Atkins urges, “If newspapers want younger people to read their papers, op-ed editors should actively reach out to college journalism programs and try to develop voices that have the perspective of younger people.” Bravo Larry!


More combatively but no less poignant, John Naughton last November scalped the newspaper industry at a Society of Editors conference for dissin’ today’s youth. In that speech, he stated, “But what one hears - still - from the newspaper industry is that there’s something wrong with the customers. And what one finds, on closer examination, is that the industry seems determined either to insult or to ignore them.” The Observer published this excerpt of his speech.


If newspaper editors spent more time engaging youth instead of counting how many are ignoring their products, those doom and gloom reports would change direction and carry the optimism of a spring bloom. If I’ve learned anything as a college professor, it’s this: if you want to connect with college students, you don’t talk at, to, or over them; you talk with them. And if you want something new about the news these days, ask today’s youth: they’re more than ready to have their voices heard.


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Chris Justice is the Director of Expository Writing at The University of Baltimore.


Photograph is by Zioluc. Published at Flickr under a Creative Commons Licence.


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