A while back I wrote a column complaining that many young people do not read newspapers, and seem to be more interested in Britney Spears than the Middle East. I assumed that this column would not offend anybody, because I was just kidding around. Also I figured no young person would actually read it.
Unfortunately, the column fell into the hands of Debbie Title, a teacher at Crestview Middle School in Ellisville, Mo., who did something unspeakably vicious: She used my column as a classroom assignment. It is a well-known educational fact that if you want young people to hate a writer, you order them to read his writing, form opinions about it, and write these opinions down under harsh classroom conditions. This is why Shakespeare is so unpopular.
Anyway, Ms. Title ordered a group of eighth-graders to respond to my column. She sent me their essays, which amount to a compelling critique of my views. In summary, the students make three basic points: (1) I am old. (2) I am an idiot. (3) I am an old idiot.
Or, as one student put it: "Dave Barry I suggest that you get a life you annoying little Baby Boomer!"
The thing that ticked the students off the most was my allegation that they are fans of Britney Spears. As one of them put it: "Most kids don't talk about Britney Spears. If she did a nude photo shoot we would, but that won't happen for a while."
Or, as another student wrote, enigmatically: "Why do young people read newspapers? Two words: not Britney Spears."
What performers do these students want to read about? "Teenagers like to see stuff about Rob Zombie and Saleen Mustangs," one student wrote.
NOTE TO OLD PEOPLE: "Rob Zombie" is a musician, I think, although to judge from his Web site--http://www.robzombie.com/--he might be an actual corpse who has, through some kind of voodoo ritual, come to life and signed a recording contract. "Saleen Mustangs" sounds like the name of a band, but as far as I can tell actually refers to fast cars.
Another student wrote: "Some things we are interested in are bands--not boy bands, but like Slipknot, New Found Glory, MxPx, Jimmy Eat World."
NOTE TO OLD PEOPLE: These are all actual bands. On the official Jimmy Eat World Web site, I found a tour diary, written by drummer Zach Lind, who states: "we played a Roman colosseum in Switzerland. it was built during the roman empire. that was prob the first place we have played where the killing of human beings was a common occurrence at some point." This statement is false: Jimmy Eat World has also played in Miami.
(If you want to know the truth, I listened to some of Jimmy Eat World's music, and I actually liked it. Of course, I would never say so in public, for fear of destroying the band's credibility with Crestview Middle School.)
In addition to noting that I am a clueless, drooling, senile fool, Ms. Title's students offered advice on how the newspaper industry might attract young readers, including:
* "I don't like reading about death, war and government. Write about things that we can relate to."
* "Make the newspaper more humorous, it is soooo boring. Talk about skateboarding, it is so huge now you don't even know."
* "Talk about not boring stuff.
Like the peace thing. It's very important, I understand that. But it's boring."
* "Don't use jokes that we don't understand. In your article, you said 'a much higher percentage than the general population voted for Stalin.' Who is Stalin? Put in jokes kids understand."
* "When you talk about this stuff make it interesting, Like when we kill a terrorist, don't just say he died, say he blew up in a million pieces or something like that."
* "I think that one way you could improve newspaper sales to young people, would be making the paper look more appealing? Maybe some blue and red ink?"
* "Another thing that would sell good to kids is by typing bigger."
* "Another suggestion is to make more comics, like 'Get Fuzzy.' There shouldn't be these stupid comics about the guy who talks about nature, that comic sucks."
Some of these suggestions threaten the very essence of newspaper journalism (Motto: "Death, War and Government"). But I see no reason why we cannot use blue and red ink. And I definitely "goofed" by not explaining, for younger readers, who Stalin is. He is the bass player for Rob Zombie.
In conclusion, I urge newspapers to incorporate as many of these changes as possible, because young readers are, truly, our Hope for the Future. In that vein, let me conclude with this thoughtful and inspirational quote from one of their essays:
"Our teacher is only making us write 5 paragraphs and I'm done."