The Iran Hostage Crisis began 30 years ago today. As a Gen-Xer, I’m old enough to remember the news coverage of the entire ordeal – from beginning to end. My elementary school age children are the same age now as I was then. But, if an international story of that magnitude happened today, would they even know about it on their own, without me sitting down and telling them about it?
In 1979, my family had access to only three VHF television stations (plus one Canadian VHF station), all carrying news, via the antenna in our home’s attic. The three UHF stations mostly carried reruns and movies. A newspaper arrived on our doorstep every afternoon and it was a prominent conversation piece in the home, sitting for hours for all to see, before going into the garbage. There was essentially no homework for elementary schoolers then and few after school activities. So, it was easy for kids to be exposed to the news, especially big stories. Plus, everyone was expected to bring a “current event” newspaper clip once per week. Of course, I was unusual – an active consumer of information (OK, a junkie) at an early age.
Today, we have hundreds of channels coming into our home, plus three DVD players and a DVR. The newspaper comes three days per week, but is usually in the recycle bin by 8am. My children have homework every night and activities after school at least two nights per week. I can’t say they have ever watched a newscast on TV (which is fine, as they don’t need to become afraid of crime too early in their lives). It’s really difficult for them to be even passive consumers of news at a young age.
This is an example of the sweeping transformation from “mass media” to “personal media.” Consumers of information want what they want, when they want it over the platforms they prefer (which often vary throughout the day). You, reading this blog right now, are a prime example of a personal news consumer and you are in the majority.
So, what if historic, international news broke today? It would be tweeted, Facebooked, reported by journalists in real-time, text updated, argued and debated on cable “news” channels before any facts are known and then finally appear in print in some places the next day. And who would see it? Only those who choose to consume it. And the children, whose futures may be altered, might never remember the day history was made.