A while ago, I asked the Internet a question: “What’s the earliest news event that you remember?”
Dozens of people responded and the results indicated that most people’s earliest news memory happened around the age of 5 or 6 when a teacher or parent told them to watch or read the news because a particular event was “really important.”
I was thinking of this question this past weekend when I hosted my parents for a visit. I have an earliest “really important” news memory, but what’s more vivid is that every day, my parents drank a cup of coffee and read four newspapers at the kitchen table. You could say that I was exposed to news by osmosis — I sat with them, eventually started reading the comics and Ann Landers, and then eventually moved onto the rest of the paper. In my house, this was a normal morning. It would have been weird to not read the paper.
The daily four newspaper habit I acquired was eventually replaced by my phone and social media. But the thirst for news has stayed with me in large part due to my parents making it a daily part of my life from the time I was little.
I was curious if the same was true for others, so I posed a question to my journalist and non-journalist friends via email, social media and phone this past weekend. “How were you introduced to the news?” I asked. “And who shaped those views?”
Their answers are great and well worth sharing. They range from people who grew up consuming every morsel of news to those that started – and then stayed — with the comics. But they say something about how childhood habits influence the way we consume news throughout our lives — which then leads to some interesting thoughts. If we’re all on our individual screens, how do we make the news communal and share it with our children?
“One of my strongest memories from childhood is eating a half grapefruit every morning with my grandparents while they watched The Today Show. My mom would usually have the newspaper around and our whole family would always watch the local and national news, but I don’t have strong memories of that shaping my news consumption. I know we would talk about the news, though, and I’m sure that influenced me since I always loved current events. If I think back though, the Newspapers in Education program may have been where I really began engaging with and actively analyzing news, from activities at school.” – Erika Owens, program manager for Knight-Mozilla Open News
— David Beard (@dabeard) October 26, 2015
“My father kept trying to get me to read the hometown paper every day, because he felt you couldn’t be a civilized person if you didn’t. I told him when the paper stopped being so racist, I’d reassess. We got the NY Times on Sundays, and I read a big chunk of that. He would be amused to know I read about four papers daily now. And Walter Cronkite was on EVERY weeknight. We watched him with the same concentration that my husband watches Lester Holt.” – Karen G. Bates, correspondent at NPR
“Growing up, we used to watch the nightly news while we ate dinner. Today, with my kids dinner is a no media or technology zone, but we listen to NPR over breakfast every day. When the local newspaper sales people used to call our house, my dad would tell them we canceled our subscription because our parakeet died and we didn’t need the paper to line the birdcage anymore (we never had a bird). Today I subscribe to the daily newspaper in part because I love going through it with my kids and talking about local events and national news. Regardless of the differences, my parents always talked with me about the news and I saw their concern, their worry and their passion for issues and current events. I think through those conversations and emotions I began to understand how news relates to real lives and real people. It was weighty and important. It was meaningful.” – Josh Stearns, director of journalism and sustainability at the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation
@mkramer My mom. She would listen to 1010WINS getting ready for work and I followed suit.
— Andrew Ramsammy (@ramsammy) October 26, 2015
“My father was never much of a news watcher, but my mother watched ABC World News Tonight with Peter Jennings every single weeknight. For her, she was the epitome of a news anchor – and so for me he was a Big Thing. My first memory of really paying attention to the news was when Reagan was shot in 1981. I was about 12 at the time and we sat rapt, watching the coverage. Funny pubradio-related story: My parents never listened to public radio. Even when I started working at the local NPR station in college. I worked there, of and on, for 12 years as a student and professionally. Whenever I wanted them to hear me anchor the news or a feature story I’d produced I would have to record it onto a cassette, take it to their house, pull out the boombox and play it for them (AWKWARD!). When 9/11 happened, I was living and working in another town. My mom calls me probably two or three days after the attack and asks me if I know a guy named Bob Edwards. I laughed and rolled my eyes, knowing what was coming next. I told her I did and she proceeded to tell me how good he was. How his morning program took time to do long interviews, not just short “soundbites”, and that they really explained things in a non-sensational way. After she finished I told her that yes — everything she said was true. And that that was what I’d been doing — the local version of his national show — in Florida and Denver. We had a good laugh over the fact that it only took her a decade to really understand what it was a did for living. She’s now an addict and will often tell me what Diane ‘Rehms’ said on the radio that morning.” – Tanya Ott, vice president of radio, Georgia Public Broadcasting
“When I was a kid, my parents taught me how to navigate a newspaper. After I learned to read, Mom showed me how to find comics (which changed paper sections day by day) in the Philadelphia Inquirer. When I was older, Dad taught me how to look up stock quotes and read the front page of the Wall Street Journal. Later, I wound up teaching them newer media skills, like how to catch up on a fast moving story and where to find explanatory journalism.” – Matt Crespi, PhD student at Carnegie Mellon University
“My mother was and is a two-newspaper a day reader, from front to back, including the legal notices. I remember asking her one day, ‘Ma, why do you read the sports section when you don’t like sports?’ She replied: ‘Because on Monday, I need to be able to talk about what happened at the game on Sunday.’ (She was a salesperson who sold mostly technical instruments; almost all of her customers were men). It was this that made me realize that people didn’t consume news exclusively or even primarily because they wanted to Know Stuff. They consumed news because news was what created the common space for connection between us and another person who wasn’t someone we knew as well as we might a good friend or family member. News is what I have in common with a stranger at the bus stop; talking about the news of the day (and I include in this weather and “How about them Pats?”) is a route from being a stranger to being someone you know.” – Lisa Williams, director of online engagement at INN
— hassan hodges (@mapgoblin) October 26, 2015
“Me: I don’t know what you all do, but I mostly pretend the news doesn’t exist…
Mom: You learned that from me.” – Nikki Lee, designer at Microsoft
“I grew up in Akron, Ohio. At that time KYW was in Cleveland and my parents, who met on the debate team in college, were always on opposite sides of Dorothy Fuldheim’s opinion. I was most influenced by Fuldheim because she was the only woman on the news.” – Lari Robling, food writer
“Much like many other pubradio reporters, I was a backseat kid. I also grew up watching ’60 Minutes’ with my dad every night because Garfield came on right after.” – Ann Marie Awad, Morning Edition host and reporter, WRKF
“My parents took two papers – the Philadelphia Inquirer and The New York Times – and started us on reading the comics, then whatever section(s) we wanted. They also had NPR on basically all the time. My grandmother, who we lived with, watched McNeil/Lehrer and Dan Rather nightly, as well. I still read a variety of papers online and listen to NPR daily. I never watch the news.” – Sophie Brookover, program coordinator and social media manager for LibraryLinkNJ
— Brandon Heck-ter (@bechter) October 26, 2015
“My parents used to watch Action News every night when I was a kid. I used to sing the opening song. ’60 Minutes’ every Sunday, too, which as a kid I thought was awfully boring. They also read the paper every morning. I used to try to snatch the sports section before my dad could get to it at the breakfast table before I’d leave for school. As a former journo and certified news junkie, I still subscribe to The Washington Post print edition on Sundays.” – Jess Milcetich, digital media strategist
“I grew up in a household that subscribed to three regional papers — The New York Times was never brought into our house. Sunday mornings usually consisted of all of us reading the papers, fighting over the Datebook section, guessing Horse Sense together and reading aloud interesting factoids to one another. Every weeknight we watched Dennis Richmond on the 10:00 newscast – no anchor has ever measured up to him. Even now, when visits to my parents’ house are filled with awkward silences, it is the paper or TV news that often prompts conversation. Except now I constantly critique it.” – Amanda Stupi, engagement producer, KQED
“My folks always took the newspaper (Dad read it a.m., I think; Mom liked to put up her feet and read it after work); I remember always liking the comics, lifestyle and circulars as a kid. The TV news was on every weeknight and morning. Not much public radio growing up; lots of commercial oldies!” – Amy Morgan, editor at NPR
@mkramer My dad introduced me to news, from the minute I left the hospital! We always listened to NPR and WNYC in the car and at home.
— Sandhya Kambhampati (@sandhya__k) October 26, 2015
“I actually just talked about this in the toast I gave to my parents at our rehearsal dinner. They read the paper every morning before work (and as teachers, their workday started a long time before the average 9-to-5 job). We also watched the news, local and world, every night during dinner. I 100 percent attribute my own interest in news to being shown every day that current events are an important responsibility that all people have. I don’t think I’d have gone into journalism without that.” – Erica Palan, audience engagement manager at Philly.com
“Every morning we dressed for school to the sounds of a news/talk Detroit radio show that Mom liked. And every night Dad read the Detroit News front to back, proudly reminding us that it was ‘the largest circulation afternoon paper in America.’ After school carpooling of four kids had an ‘All Things Considered’ soundtrack. Powerful childhood memory: all of us lazily dressing for a trip to the Ice Capades when Dad shouts out a news bulletin — he has just seen Jack Ruby shoot Lee Oswald.” – Ann Marie Lipinski, curator, Nieman Foundation for Journalism
“[We watched] Nightly network news in the 70s, and in the 80s my mom read the Sunday New York Times and did the crossword. In the 80s, I was a very young subscriber to Utne Reader. I don’t know how I found that magazine on my own but I did.” – Jesse Taggert, designer
“My grandparents: Cronkite and Roger Mudd in the evenings, then later ‘MacNeil Lehrer’, as it was once known, and ‘Washington Week.’ My grandmother also, as an insomniac, listened to WBZ AM news radio from a transistor radio under her pillow — the radio is now mine. We’d listen together when I crept into her bed in the early mornings in the Cronkite-Mudd era, and she’d take it to keep listening as she made breakfast. And she read the Boston Globe and The New York Times every day — the first campaign I followed was during the summer of 1988, reading the front pages every day.” – Diantha Parker, senior staff editor at The New York Times
“My mom or dad would read one Wall Street Journal article to me every morning from the time I was about 8. What I remember the most was following the Rwandan genocide story in the 90s during those morning readings. It was the first news story I ever followed daily, from the earliest reports, and it was certainly the first time I’d ever engaged with international news. Will never forget it.” – Lexi Mainland, managing editor at A Cup of Jo
“My mom is a rabid news junkie, and we always watched Jim Gardner and Lisa Thomas-Laury on 6ABC right around dinner. We woke up to the ticking sound of KYW 1060, and ‘Today’ was on while we got ready in the morning. Mom also bought the Daily News and allowed me to play the cryptogram puzzles and read the classifieds in the paper when I got home from school and finished homework.” – Alexandra McFadden, grant writer