Turning to a New Generation to Solve the News Crisis

04/25/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Arne Duncan, President Obama's secretary of education, recently testified to Congress that the administration is poised to "lay the foundation for a generation of reform."

As Mr. Duncan tries to lead these changes inside the government, our challenge as journalists is equally formidable: transforming our practice on the Internet, as the industry faces massive upheaval and demands a new generational vision.

Our generation (and the young staff at Scoop44) realizes that Mr. Duncan's sweeping and urgent call for new generational engagement, bolstered by the President's ambitious agenda to reform education, health care, and energy, applies not only to the administration. It means that millennials must also solve a crisis in journalism, an industry plagued by insolvency and on the brink of eventual collapse.

Walter Isaacson has one idea: ask Americans to pay for their news on the basis of quality. But our generation, as in so many other respects, has a keen sense of entitlement: we believe the public deserves its news to be open and free of charge. Perhaps it should have been all along. An ever-spreading decline in the accessibility of news might also exacerbate apathy among young people.

In 2009, it seems that Isaacson's proposal is simply not pragmatic. But let's tweak it a bit. Rather than asking young people to pay - an admittedly unrealistic proposition according to most of those who study journalistic trends - let's seek their own engagement in news gathering.

Our youth and vigor - and a freedom of choice before being catapulted into a demanding private-sector job - can enable us to produce the most creative, exploratory, and substantive news. They can usher in a new generation of young reporters and open doors of journalistic opportunity, even as traditional newspapers become understaffed or are forced to close.

Is any of this really possible? For a glimmer, if not a rainbow, of hope, we can look to the confluence of forces that culminated in young people's unquestioned arrival on the national political landscape during the 2008 presidential campaign. We saw then the election as essential to our nation's future, and engaged in it accordingly.

The President talks about setting the nation on more dependable economic footing. Likewise, the news industry can find its own measure of sustainability in America's youth, a demographic that isn't bursting any time soon - and one that can be a source of permanent journalistic enterprise as each new generation comes to the fore.

This engagement, visible on campuses nationwide, has resulted from the scope of new concerns facing our up-and-coming generation together with the advent of the Internet and other technologies.

Survival of the Fourth Estate hinges on a certain civic ingenuity, a collective responsibility we all share as Americans. This generation's decision to engage in the 2008 election en masse marked a sea-change in modern political history. We passed the test and dismissed the myth that we don't understand our own stake in the American journey.

The success of a disinterested and active press is a fundamental cornerstone of democracy. Now that framework must expand, fostering a vision of journalism as civic responsibility, a larger chore for Americans coming of age, today and into future generations.

All bets are in on our ability to confront problems of monumental proportions. Young people are the tide of change America must embrace in order to preserve the news in the news industry.