RAVES & RANTS: International journalist Brian Stewart speaks at U of T alumni convocation

Recently, I attended the University of Toronto ALUMNI convocation in Toronto. Brian Stewart, former CBC news journalist for foreign affairs, spoke about news reporting today. It was an interesting take by an expert who reported international news for well over 50 years. He knew of which he spoke.

Mr. Stewart sent us a copy of his speech and it is posted as a link to this note. However, we would like to comment on one aspect in relation to Stewart’s speech. More specifically, about how young people listen to the news…

Stewart’s speech was about how the news world has changed over the many years he has covered it. He commented on the type of news that is prevalent today, the sensationalism and negativity of the news, the veracity and actual factuality of current news, and finally, he had some views about the news audience of today.

Younger minds, capable of incredible multitasking
The photo above depicts a younger person in the audience at the convocation. The person is actively interacting with their iPhone while Stewart is speaking. There are many points to consider without saying the most obvious. But let’s make the most obvious point first.

Short attention span, boredom, lack of interest?
Who knows why this young person is dividing their attention as displayed above. Perhaps boredom. It is easy to jump to a conclusion that younger people may not have the dedication needed to listen to and digest serious communications for longer than the short periods of time to which they are accustomed as they interact with social media.

Possibly, this young person lacks the educational background which would have made Stewart’s words more meaningful and thus more appealing. Not knowing history as covered by Stewart over many decades, the information he was reviewing would fall on fallow fields.

Polished and powerful multitasking prowess
However, let’s give this young person some credit. One should not assume that what looks like an obvious mental diversion. This person is not necessarily missing what is being said. Young people have been doing this kind of divided attention interaction their entire lifetime. They likely excel at it and actually are capable of absorbing information from diverse sources simultaneously. Older people, from a generation which devoted more energy and more attention for longer periods, are not likely to understand the capacity of the younger person who has developed the capability of profiting from multiple information sources at the same time.

Snippets of information are enough
Younger people get information for social media sources known for brevity. Twitter had 140 letter limitations, YouTube videos last minutes, Vim videos are limited to seconds, insta-messaging is short spurts of words. The point is these young people are accustomed to dealing with information that comes at them quickly, briefly and instantly. They are conditioned to short intervals of focus, ready to jump to another topic, another subject, another item within moments. Long periods of mental dedication to a single topic is not in their makeup. This abbreviated conditioning results in that they may be unable to focus on a subject for a long period of time or they are unwilling to do so, never mind that they see no value in such prolonged focus or worse, they see no value in the received information needing longer attention.

Stewart addressed this problem with news reporting today
Stewart’s talk was not a criticism as much as it was an observation. The news audience today is different than it was before. Today’s news audience is less educated, less knowledgeable about the past, about history, and about past political events and their relevance to the world today. There was no intention of criticizing today’s news audience. It was simply saying that the audience has changed. But it is very interesting to watch the world unfold and see how the younger generation interacts with the news differently than did the generations of the past.

MY EMAIL INTERACTION WITH BRIAN STEWART WITH HIS RESPONSES TO MY QUESTIONS

TEXT of Brian Stewart’s SPEECH

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