Every year, my husband and I travel up Provo canyon to talk to a roomful of wannabe writers at the annual Hugh O'Brian Leadership Conference.
We usually take a couple of minutes to introduce ourselves and answer some benign media questions and sit down one-on-10 to talk with them in buzz sessions.
It's always invigorating and interesting and exhausting.
This year, they sent an e-mail asking us to explain why what we do at the newspaper should matter to the average high school sophomore. I recognized an effort on their part to make the time spent more relevant to these kids. I would have about five minutes to do so.
I'd just spent 90 minutes the day before at a middle school trying to excite seventh- and eighth-graders about writing in general. I'd sung and danced and waved copies of our newspaper in front of them.
In both cases, I labored to try to convey the passion I feel about journalism.
I wanted to ignite some fires in kids who generally get all the news they want from television and the Internet, kids who think elections and global warming and international trade policies have nothing to do with them.
How do you transfer a love of information and an appreciation for detail and introspective to people who find big terms like "city council" and "property tax" too big?
How do you convince someone in a few minutes that it really matters whether they understand an issue or become educated about a political candidate?
Where is the price tag on enlightenment, awareness, expansion of opinion?
I tried. I told them it matters because news matters. Ideas matter. What we do as people is shaped by what we know. I told them they need to know what's going on in the world because it affects their futures.
All of it sounded like the kind of things my teachers used to say to me back in the dark ages, the kind of things that sound so conventional, so cliche, even though true.
I tried to gesture and modulate my speech so they would listen.
I attempted to make them care as I told police stories and avalanche stories and carp stories.
Most of them looked at me with a mixture of boredom and pity.
Some put on a game face so their teachers wouldn't get mad, but only a few really looked like they got it.
A few asked questions: "How is your newspaper dealing with dwindling circulation?"
"Is everybody always mad at you?"
"Do you get to talk to anybody important?"
"How much do you get paid?"
We're changing how we do things, I said. Yes, yes, and not enough, but it doesn't matter, I said.
Newspapers bind societies and keep us honest, I said. We need them if we're going to survive. To devalue them is to devalue reading, sharing and learning, I said.
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