Fine print


Lately, I don’t feel like my week is complete until I’ve been lectured by a millennial about one thing or another. Usually it’s about the evil of plastic bags or how many genders there are or how the Founding Fathers all smoked hemp, dude.

The usual venue for these sermons is social media, where I’m about as popular as a mosquito at the Olympics.

Recently, I was informed for about the 7 millionth time that young people don’t read newspapers.

Stop the presses, as we used to say in the dinosaur print medium.

It usually happens after someone expresses horror over hearing about some new development in town. Things quickly go downhill after I gently and politely point out that this “sudden” change has been in the news for months.

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At that point, I am quickly and soundly upbraided about the fact that young people don’t read newspapers. Millennials, I am informed, expect their information to be instantaneous.

(This is not new information to me. I seem to remember reading a few hundred articles about this over the last 15 or so years – in the newspaper.)

town_hall-entranceOver the years, I’ve gotten various versions of the same lecture. It goes something like this: Because not everyone gets the newspaper, the Town of Wakefield should a) email to each and every voter the agendas and minutes of all public meetings; b) mail out a monthly one-page citizen update/information sheet to all households with their electric bills; c) Use a reverse 911-type phone system to inform citizens; or d) all of the above.

Any of those things, I have been told, would be preferable to printing all those newspapers every day because then everyone would have access to the information, not just those who choose to get the newspaper. Besides, updates sent out by Town Hall would be “free.”

“People shouldn’t have to pay to be informed,” is the egalitarian message.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is the result of not teaching civics in the schools for that last 30 years. We have produced a generation that sees no problem whatsoever with the government being their primary news source (along with Stephen Colbert, of course).

The Founding Fathers would be appalled.

Even hemp-addled as they were, the Founders thought enough of the importance of a free and independent press to include it in the very First Amendment to the Constitution. They didn’t want any doubt about what was most vital for a free society, so they didn’t leave it for third or fifth or ninth. They put it in the First Amendment.

But I don’t mean to paint an entire generation with a broad brush. I personally know at least half a dozen millennials who think of a paper as something to be read rather than stuffed with weed and smoked.

Besides, this tendency of the young to lecture their elders is nothing new. Every generation thinks they’re smarter than the previous one.

For sheer obnoxiousness, the millennials are pikers compared to their forebears, the spoiled-rotten Baby Boomers. The Boomers had the unmitigated gall to lecture the Greatest Generation – you know, the ones that survived the Depression and stormed the beaches of Normandy to save the world from tyranny – about the evils of war.

Look, no one’s under any illusion that in 2016 everyone is going get all their news from the printed newspaper. That ship sailed long before the advent of the Internet. “Press” has included electronic media since the early days of radio.

But government on any level is no substitute for an independent press.

They used to teach that in civics class.

[This column originally appeared in the August 4, 2016 Wakefield Daily Item.]

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