Have they got news for you?

Not if you're under 30, they haven't. A 'lost generation' is avoiding news like the plague, reports Stephen Armstrong. Take our quiz and find out if you are one of them

"I'VE never read or seen anything about that nanny in America who killed that baby," said Eleanor, 25, a fashionably dressed advertising executive, sipping coffee in a Soho cafe. "But I know all about it from what my mates say. It's just one of those things that everyone knows about, isn't it?"

Last week, the fledgling Channel 5 announced that its main nightly news programme, anchored by Kirsty Young (above), was moving from 8.30pm to 7pm, where it will compete against Channel 4 News with Jon Snow (above right). Channel 5 claims to be attracting a mysterious "lost generation" of news viewers who are young, smart, attractive to advertisers - and currently avoiding traditional news programmes like the plague. This generation consists of people like Eleanor and her hearsay news gathering friends.

Eleanor herself was part of a straw poll Real Life conducted last week in London's three great centres of youth activity - Soho, Knightsbridge and Clerkenwell. In all, 30 twenty-to-thirtysomethings, from professionals to students, were given our simple News Quiz. The level of the answers was pretty consistent: all shared a lack of any real knowledge about anything.

It wasn't so much downright ignorance. There was a general vague grasp that things were going on somewhere. But the specifics were a wee bit hazy. Neil Hamilton, for instance, was thought to be a bad thing by most people, but only one person knew what he was supposed to have done. "Isn't he involved in a sex scandal with a schoolgirl prostitute?" said Emily, 25. "No, I think he was up to something with his wife," said her friend Anna, 26, who worked with Emily at a stockbrokers. "Didn't he steal money from Dodi's dad?" said Edward, 27, an Internet consultant. Cherie Blair and the Spice Girls were the only personalities that everyone knew something about. Indeed, Cherie Blair scored better than the Spice Girls if the fab five are taken as a body corporate. People positively volunteered information. "She's a lawyer, isn't she," said Helen, 23, a researcher. "She was at a fashion show recently laughing at the clothes," said Heather, 27.

William Hague, on the other hand, did very badly indeed. People seemed only to have the faintest grasp of his existence. "He's the Clive Anderson one," said Helen. "Bald geezer," said Anthony, 21. "Oh, you know, looks a bit like a gnome," said Sandra, who was a dentist, for heaven's sake. And that range of opinions came from the slight majority who were aware that John Major wasn't still in charge.

Only two people knew what ERM stood for and one of those was an economics student. Everyone else assumed the E stood for European and the M stood for money but they couldn't work out what R meant. "Round" said one. Eh? "Well, some of those European coins are weird shapes with holes in the middle," he said, his anonymity being preserved in his own interests. "Maybe they want them all to be round like British coins."

Foreign affairs was an all-round bust. No one at all knew who was killing who in Algeria. They didn't even know that anyone was being killed. "Where's Algeria?" was the almost unanimous response, some thinking Algeria was near Portugal. "Didn't you go on a package holiday there two years ago?" said Al, 24, to Ed, 26. It was a positive relief to find that everyone knew that Britain had handed Hong Kong back to China this year and that E coli was bad for you, whether it was a bacteria, a virus, an insect or a strain of CJD. (Opinion was divided on which, exactly.)

Hong Kong scored reasonably well, although some people seemed to have the place confused with India. The French lorry drivers' strike, on the other hand, got a huge and stunningly correct response. "It's about pay, isn't it," they all said. "But all strikes are about pay, aren't they?" said Richard, who worked at Smithfield market. "It was just a lucky guess."

What may seem staggering is that every one of those questioned firmly believed that keeping up with news and current events was very, very important. Not a single person thought it was OK to be out of touch, no matter how out of touch this questionnaire suggested they were. They thought they had an adequate supply of news, although when pushed as to where exactly they sourced this information, things got a little murky.

"I do read the newspapers although I don't buy more than one a week," said Julian, 29, a club promoter. "I find the TV news boring. It goes on too long and it's a bit stuffy." "Someone's always got a paper lying around and you read

that," said Tim, 23. "You don't really need to buy one for yourself, because you'll probably lose it anyway." Most gathered their news in a piecemeal fashion, picking up the headlines from the radio in the morning and from flicking through whatever papers they come across during the day. They also find out what's going on from general chit-chat.

In this news-by-numbers way - a pinch of radio, a taste of borrowed paper, breakfast TV and the early evening TV headlines - a view of the world can be built up which gives everyone the impresson that they know what's what. Indeed Ian Lewis, head of programme evaluation at Zenith Media, the UK's largest media buyer, argues that the questions I asked which got the best response were those which fell within the agenda of pop radio. Cherie Blair, the Spice Girls, Neil Hamilton and E coli could be on Radio One; Algeria just isn't.

"Young people consume media in a completely different way," says Mark Ratcliff, who owns the youth research company Murmur. "In the old days, people would sit down at the TV and view possibly one channel through the evening. The young are appointment-to-view watchers." They rarely settle in front of a TV. Cable and satellite, remote controls, video recorders, computer games and even plain old going-down-the-pub get in the way of watching the news.

"This is a very utilitarian generation," argues Tim Gardam, head of news at Channel 5 and a former editor of both Newsnight and Panorama. "They don't watch news but they do plan their lives, so they aren't a feckless bunch. I think they are alienated by current news because the BBC made a classic mistake. They knew that people trusted TV news and not newspapers, but they confused trust with authority. In the last 10 years there has been a decline of faith in authority and I think that news reporting has suffered."

"Young people aren't reading newspapers or watching television," says Ian Lewis. "Readers of papers and watchers of news are older than ever before and every single news programme loses audience from the programme that precedes it. News is basically in a long term decline."

For this, the broadcasters and newspapers must accept responsibility. If our straw poll shows anything, it shows the lost generation believes news is important and keeping up to date is the right thing to do. They just can't find anyone who gives them the news in the way they want to consume it. One thing they all agree on, though, is that "dumbing down" is not the answer. Not a single person believed the stories should be simplified purely for them as they found that patronising.

Supplying this new breed with the news they need is not about talking down to them or throwing bite-size nuggets of information their way. It's about realising that the old rules of broadcasting, in particular, have changed. The days when the monolithic TV stations scheduled in the "right" way and we fitted our viewing in around them are over. If television is to provide us with news, it must find out how we live and make sure the news is there when we want it in the way we want it. Otherwise, what's the point in having it at all? Pretty soon, no one will be watching.

1. Why was Montserrat evacuated?

2. Who is he?

3. Why are they striking?

4. What is E coli?

5. Who is she?

6. Who's killing who in Algeria?

7. Who is Neil Hamilton?

8. What are the Spice Girls' real names?

9. What does ERM stand for?

10. What happened in Hong Kong this year?

The answers: 1. Island devastated by volcanic eruption 2. William Hague 3. French lorry drivers' pay dispute 4. Bacterium 5. Cherie Blair 6. Battle between Algerian Army and Islamic Armed Group, but many Islamists feared dead at hands of government agents eager to prevent a ceasefire. 7. Tory MP in cash-for-questions scandal 8. Emma Bunton, Victoria Adams, Melanie Chisholm, Melanie Brown, Geri Halliwell 9. Exchange Rate Mechanism 10. Hong Kong handed back to China

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher

    Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher A specialist primary school i...

    Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

    £15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

    Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

    £15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

    Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

    £20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

    Day In a Page

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
    Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

    The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

    Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
    Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

    A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
    How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

    How books can defeat Isis

    Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
    The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

    The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

    The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
    Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

    Young carers to make dance debut

    What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
    Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

    Design Council's 70th anniversary

    Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
    Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

    Dame Harriet Walter interview

    The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

    Bill Granger's winter salads

    Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
    England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

    George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

    No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
    Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links