"No People will tamely surrender their Liberties, nor can they easily be subdued, where Knowledge is diffusd and Virtue preservd. On the Contrary, when People are universally ignorant & debauchd in their Manners, they will sink under their own Weight, without the Aid of foreign Invaders."
-- Samuel Adams, 1775
The apocalypse is nigh.
The Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University heralds this news in a report on a survey of 1,800 Americans, including a rarely studied group, teen-agers between the ages of 12 and 17.
The study reconfirms what I've long suspected. Teens may not be reading the newspaper as much as their parents, but that does not mean they are getting news elsewhere. In fact, they are not getting news from the Internet or anywhere else. They simply are not consuming news, period. And, when they are exposed, it is largely by osmosis -- the radio or the TV just happened to be blaring when the news came on.
The Shorenstein report dug deeper than just asking people where they got their news. It asked about current news topics and followed up with a question to determine whether the respondent accurately knew about the topic.
The news questions asked about such things as the previous day's 400-point drop in the Dow Jones industrial average and, on another day, about Britain's announced plan to pull troops from Iraq.
It was bad enough that only 54 percent of adults over 30 claimed to be familiar with the stories at all, but only 24 percent of teens even claimed to know about these topics.
Then only 50 percent of older adults could correctly choose between a true and a false "factual element" of the story, compared to only 39 percent of young adults (18 to 30). Could've done better with a coin toss. The study did not break out the response for teens, but one can easily surmise.
The study also looked into news consumption by medium -- newspapers, television, radio and Internet -- grading heavy users with a 2 and non-users with a 0, for a top score of 8. Fully 28 percent of teens had a score of 0 across all media.
"Taken together," the researchers concluded, "60 percent of teens can be considered basically inattentive to daily news, as compared to 48 percent of young adults and only 23 percent of older adults."
Now, what does this mean for the future?
"Young people's interest in news will affect the economic vitality of news organizations and thus their ability to invest in quality journalism," the report forebodes. "Also at stake is the grass roots health of American democracy. ... The evidence obtained through our national study presents a relatively dim picture of young Americans' interest in daily news."
Dim? As my ol' Pappy used to say: "It's always darkest before it turns pitch black."
Whose court is it?
When the Review-Journal learned that some preliminary proceedings in a lawsuit involving the Las Vegas Sands Corp. (parent company of the Venetian hotel and casino) were being conducted under a veil of secrecy, we exercised our inalienable journalistic right to engage in futile gestures, firing off a letter of protest to Discovery Commissioner (that's like a pre-judge judge) Bonnie Bulla asking her to reject a request by the Sands to keep some depositions under seal.
The Sands is controlled by Sheldon Adelson, the third richest person in America with unabashed ambition to be No. 1.
We argued that "closure of court proceedings or records should only occur when necessary to comply with established public policy as set forth in the Constitution, statutes, rules or case law to protect bona-fide and clearly articulated trade secrets, and to protect compelling governmental interests, such as national security. ..."
Commissioner Bulla, whose salary and staff and overhead are all paid for by the taxpayers of Nevada, referenced our letter in a subsequent filing, concluding, "This is a private business dispute between parties" and "The first amendment (Yes, she lower cased it.) is simply irrelevant to protective orders in civil discovery."
She went on to establish for the first time in the history of jurisprudence the YouTube Doctrine.
Bulla speculated that the videotaped deposition of Adelson might end up on YouTube and "in the public eye on YouTube, will undoubtedly cause annoyance, embarrassment and harassment."
That's a trade secret?
If it is a "private dispute," why are we, the taxpayers, footing the bill? Tell them to hire a private arbitrator. If I'm paying for it, I want to see it.
Thomas Mitchell is editor of the Review-Journal and writes about the role of the press and access to public information. He may be contacted at 383-0261 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.