There is a heightened interest in what goes on in the heads and hearts of modern teenagers — dubbed “Generation Z” (Gen Z) — particularly by legacy media. But teenagers from rural communities, especially in the Midwest, are not often factored into mainstream Gen Z coverage. This can be attributed to a number of factors, such as living in a news desert, living in the middle of the country, and-or unpredictable Wi-Fi access that hampers engagement with news and information sources.
With these barriers to access in mind, the central question becomes: Do rural Gen Z teenagers see themselves in the news they consume? If they do, what news topics and-or information is of interest to them? Where do they consume it? And if they don’t consume news and information, how can they be compelled to engage with it?
As a residential fellow with the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute at the Missouri School of Journalism, Nico Gendron spent August 2018 through April 2019 working with rural, mid-Missouri teenagers who live in news deserts.
Gendron worked with five high schools, spanning four counties. The 15 juniors and seniors who participated in Gendron’s fellowship project were given the opportunity to produce an original, local news story about their community which they felt hadn’t been explored by legacy, regional and-or local media.
In the process of producing their stories, students learned the basics of journalism and were encouraged to adopt a digital news and information “diet,” whether that was following a news outlet they like on Instagram or finding a news-oriented podcast.
As one of the participating students at Russellville told Gendron upon filing in his final draft, “journalism is much harder than writing fiction.” Project goal achieved.