News carries a much different meaning today than it did during the days of Walter Cronkite. In the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s Cronkite was a respected authority, remembered for stoically delivering iconic “breaking news” across his anchorman’s desk such as Kennedy’s assassination and the Apollo 11 lunar landing.
While Cronkite is a true generational icon and defined the way Traditionalists got their news, each generation has consumed breaking news in different ways. Traditionalists watched the first 10-minute news television broadcast in 1930 after decades of listening to news via the radio waves. TV news became a staple for Boomers as they religiously watched the 30-minute nightly broadcast. Gen Xers ate their microwaved TV dinners while watching car chases and president impeachment trials on CNN—the first generation to be exposed to 24-hour news access. Millennials shifted from the TV screen to the computer screen to read updates on wars and global tragedies via blogs and keep up to date via daily inbox news skims.
And the next generation? Their stream of news is a whole other story (pun intended).
I was working at a coffee shop last week and overheard a conversation that flipped a switch for me. News means something completely different for the next generation.
“Did you hear the news?” a 15-ish Gen Edger asked her friend across the table.
“I just saw from a friend on Twitter that there was a shooting in Oregon. It was at a school again.”
I quickly pulled up CNN’s website and… nothing. Intrigued, I checked in a few minutes later and finally saw the public announcement. The teen had caught wind of the news even before the media had. And this isn’t a proximity thing. We were nowhere near Oregon. Instead, she’d seen an eye-witness news feed retweeted by a friend on Twitter. News announced as it’s happening isn’t new to a Millennial anymore, but it’s all Gen Edgers know. And it’s worth noting that while Millennials were the first generation to experience violence en masse at home and in the desks next to them. There have been 74 school shootings over the 18 months since Sandy Hook. Gen Edgers have been experiencing it all. Live.
We’re all in the midst of this new era of news. You wake up, snooze your iPhone alarm, and start your day with push notification news alerts that you missed during the eight hours you (hopefully) slept. You get to work, maybe answer some emails, and check-in with Facebook and Twitter. We’re all constantly plugged in, but Gen Edgers have never known a time of being unplugged the way the rest of us have.
What implications might this have? We’re already seeing them incredibly deft at parsing streams of information to find news that is most relevant and interesting to them. They’ll likely be able to sort through data sets at a rate that’s faster than we’ve ever seen. And they’ll be a generation that will expect to be in tune with what’s happening, as it’s happening NOW.