Other Free Encyclopedias » Medicine Encyclopedia » Aging Healthy - Part 2 » Images of Aging - Geezer Bashing, Invisible Elders, "old Warhorses" In U.s. Newsrooms, Advertising Rates Trump Ratings

Images of Aging - "old Warhorses" In U.s. Newsrooms

age audience maynard times audiences

In the United States, the attitude of the news media's most highly placed executives toward older audiences was documented by Nancy Hicks Maynard. Maynard came to disturbing conclusions after conducting interviews during more than two years with two hundred of the most influential executives in the media, under a grant from the Freedom Forum, which is sponsored by the Gannett Foundation. Her study was summarized in a series of columns in the Columbia Journalism Review.

Maynard bemoans the dwindling audiences for news and lays the blame squarely on a "generation gap" in newsrooms. She writes that in the last two decades of the twentieth century both the audience and newsroom staffs aged beyond the point where they respect the more lucrative and modern interests in the news industry. "The gray-haired set has captured the news business," she writes. "This generational domination is far more complete than gender or even racial gaps, and it may be a factor in young adults' news consumption patterns and the shrinking audience for traditional news." The negative impression of older audiences, as viewed by Maynard's informants, is reflected in one solution for increasing younger audiences. According to Maynard, many journalists "preparing the news shy away from today's tools and rules" of high-tech interactivity. She writes that "Journalists with these sensibilities don't connect with the young, and neither does their coverage. Some news executives are beginning to understand this. As they do, in the finite world of print, they unceremoniously ax the old warhorses to make way for something new. In 1999, the New York Times fired from its op-ed page both humorist Russell Baker and former executive editor Abe Rosenthal. They were replaced by clever baby boomers. . . ."

Old warhorses, dead wood, and related images suggesting that older people place a drag on productivity and momentum toward future growth are routinely expressed in policies of the entertainment and advertising industries—often in ways that directly affect how, or whether, more mature themes or images are represented on movie or television screens. For example, in October 2000, a group of twenty-eight highly successful Hollywood screenwriters (who were later joined by many other screenwriters) filed a federal class-action suit against the major networks, studios, and talent agencies claiming they participated in a "systematic" pattern of age discrimination. The Los Angeles Times reported (24 October 2000) that the lawsuit, which was later dismissed by the court, cited a 1998 study commissioned by the Writers Guild of America "showing the decreased rate of writers forty and older on broadcast-network sitcoms and dramas. According to the report, for instance, nearly 75 percent of writers within the guild age thirty or younger were employed in 1997, versus 46 percent of those in their 40s and 32 percent of those in their 50s."

The ageism affecting older screenwriters and actors runs so deep in the media's impressions about its economic interests that a television network's bottom line is most heavily damaged if it is identified as attracting an "old audience," a phrase used by the New York Times in referring to CBS. In his "Television" column, Times writer Bill Carter reminded readers that CBS was "once the butt of jokes by all its rivals for having a core audience of viewers who signed on to see Jack Benny and haven't quit yet." Later that month, the Wall Street Journal (24 October) reported in a front-page story that NBC had lost ground in competition for "the coveted 18 to 49 age group." The article stressed, "In the past three years, the median age of NBC's audience has risen to forty-five from forty-one, a bad omen for advertising revenues."

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