Generation Nix

Why don't young people read daily newspapers? A better question is: Why should they?

I'm less worried about these tabloids dumbing down journalism than I am by the prospect of an ad-edit mesh. I don't want to see my prose caressing a futon ad, but I don't think pay-for papers will resist this innovation if readers accept it. (I recall that one daily was thinking about making its pages smell like freshly baked bread, after a focus group chose that scent.) In the future, newspaper ads may move and even pop up, while the text remains stationary. I wonder if someone will sue for being groped by the Daily News.

But the most pressing issue relates to the reason why young people don't read dailies. If you've already seen the news (or laughed at it with The Daily Show), and you're faced with a banal paper, wouldn't you rather peruse The Onion on the way to work? Young people are drawn to attitude, Nieman Reports concludes. They like being provoked, as long as it's not gratuitous, and they enjoy writers who express strongly held beliefs, whether or not they agree. My generation is much more intolerant. Maybe that's why we're so quick to see media conspiracies, and why we require such studied—and phony—neutrality from the dailies.

Unfortunately, subway tabs don't fill the need for radical writing and proud subjectivity. That's what alt.weeklies do, and it's their main appeal to the young. Since I'm an editor at the Voice, you should take this with a block of salt. But give me a read that pisses me off and I'll go out of my way to pick it up—not because I need an instant info fix, but because it keeps me kicking.

'Evil Walks Streets Again'

When I saw this front-page head in Thursday's Daily News, my first thought was: So, nu? Evil always walks the streets, in many guises. But the subject of this statement was evil in a special way.

Joel Steinberg, who battered his lover and beat his child to death, was released from prison last week, prompting the News to run an editorial urging New Yorkers to stare at him—or, in their words, "Let him feel every New York eye burning straight through to his rotten soul." I'd like to see Rudy Giuliani get that treatment, if only because he defended cops who killed innocent people, most of them black. But not all evil acts are equal.

Steinberg's crime was horrendous—almost the essence of the word. But it occurred in a certain social context. He was a white, middle-class resident of Greenwich Village. If he'd lived in the ghetto and done the same deed, there would have been fury, but it wouldn't have flared up again 16 years later. I doubt that the officer who stuck a broomstick up Abner Louima's rectum will rate the same News editorial when he's released.

Steinberg wasn't just a sociopath; he was a social-code breaker. He shattered the assumption that middle-class people don't do that sort of thing. That was his greatest threat to society. Staring him down has less to do with responding to evil than with maintaining stability.

Was Steinberg a monster? Yes. But he's a useful monster. That's why he still sells papers.

Research: Matthew Phillp


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