Gen Z, the youths born between 1997-2012, seem to be engaged and interested in change-making. This thought comforts me as the world, as run by the older folks, continues to teeter on the edge of hell (present company older readers excluded). That’s what happens when fear (especially) runs the show (with prejudice and greed, among other things). That WILL change. It IS changing. Good gracious, is progress slow, though. I hate to remind you of this, boomers, but the youngsters — who are on your lawn RIGHT NOW — were born with computers in their hands and, as Van Jones put it recently, were (and are) in kindergarten classes that look like the United Nations. Their world is the future. I wish it was more fully the present. In the meantime, I take solace where I can. Take these kids in Kentucky…
At a time when local journalism is dying (and in fact is dead in some places), high school reporters are picking up the mantle. They will hopefully help journalism revitalize into the future because look at what power does even when some people are watching. What will it do if no one is?
Case in point: The cubbiest of cub reporters at duPont Manual High School in Louisville reported that training materials used by the Kentucky state police referenced Hitler and encouraged police cadets to be “ruthless killers.” Because of the article, the governor had to address the issue and the police commissioner resigned. An investigation found at least one additional piece of inappropriate training material (so far).
After reading their work and the response, I couldn’t help but wonder: why hadn’t a professional newspaper, broadcast, or internet reporter looked into this subject, especially this year? Criminal justice is a solid beat and there’s a lot to look into, just as an agency watchdog. Also, the current climate around policing seems to make investigations into training a good subject for investigative reporting. Finally, this is Kentucky, where a police killing just this year makes this beyond relevant.
Setting aside my own investigative questions (you can take the girl out of journalism school…), the point: the kids did the story. The story got results. Something that needed to be seen was illuminated. That is the point of real journalism. What is not real journalism: the talking heads on TV, especially on the opinion shows (which are indistinguishable in many cases from actual news) and definitely not a lot on that channel. It is definitely not social media either, but try as I might I can’t convince some that Zuckerberg doesn’t do news.
Journalists are (generally underpaid) people who are committed to digging through layer after layer of paper (and bullshit), getting in the faces of people we elect or that work for government agencies that affect our daily lives, and demanding transparency and answers that citizens are entitled to. It’s hard work, and there are journalists at the local, state, and national level, in print and broadcast and online, still trying to do the work, with few to little to shrinking resources (exception: national/TV). Newsrooms, especially local, continue to shrink and close. They also struggle in this era with so much of “journalism” being centered around politics, not policy, and the gnat-like attention spans of consumers, which means sorry, Gray Lady, even though you’re a national standard, that’s way too much reading for too many. (I won’t get into ideological “news” bubbles, which is a topic for another day.)
Here’s the thing, gnatty non-newsies: being a citizen can be work, but journalists will do the heavy lifting for you! You just have to read it, ingest it, analyze it, then read some more. That starts with supporting their work with your dollars. Pay them to be your eyes and ears in the halls of government and everywhere else. Isn’t that worth it?
That last bit was mostly rhetorical because if people thought it was worth it, I wouldn’t have had to ask the question. I wouldn’t be reliant on and jubilant about the fact that kid reporters in Kentucky (and I’ll assume elsewhere) have picked up — and will continue to pick up — the mantle the older generations have willingly dropped or simply ignore.
In 1985, long before GenZ was born, Whitney Houston sang that she believed the children are our future. This isn’t exactly what she meant, but she’s not wrong. Keep it up, kids. And you can run on my lawn any time you want.
Read the article in the Manual Redeye student newspaper here.