GUEST COMMENTARY: Newspaper reading fosters learning, educated voting

Thursday, March 7, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CST; updated 12:07 p.m. CST, Thursday, March 7, 2013

One of my first memories comes from Jan. 25, 1998 when the Denver Broncos defeated the Green Bay Packers by a final of 31-24. The indelible image of that game for me was running back Terrell Davis walking into the end zone for the final score of the game. That moment marked a turning point in my life.

I had always been fascinated by the newspaper. My mom tells stories of me running to the door every morning, finding the newspaper, dumping it out on the floor and browsing through the various sections. However, I had never found something very interesting about which to read.

Enter the Broncos winning the Super Bowl. This story sparked my desire to read everything in the sports page, news page, business page and front page related to the team. This created a lifetime habit. Even while peers were switching their entire lives over to Smartphones, I still read the newspaper daily. While newspapers may seem old fashioned to some, they are vital tools for both children and adults to learn. Thorough research supports this statement.

Of 1,500 people interviewed by National Association of America Foundation in 2007, only 65 percent voted in the 2004 Presidential Election. Of those, an overwhelming 84 percent had been exposed to newspapers as a child.

If America is to thrive as a nation, it must have citizens who are able and willing to vote. Clearly, newspapers foster this attitude. The goal of having a citizenry reading the newspaper, however, must start when that citizenry are children.

The Newspaper Association of America Foundation conducted a survey of 1,500 people in 2004 to see whether being exposed to newspapers as a child increased the likelihood that those children would still be reading the newspaper as an adult.

The research showed that more than 60 percent of adults with some exposure to reading newspapers continued to read it as adults. On the other hand, only 38 percent of those with no exposure reading the newspapers will start reading as adults. That 22 percentage point difference translates to almost 7 million Americans, based on the 2012 census. That's 7 million Americans who will not reap the benefits of newspapers unless they form reading habits early in life.

Alexander Graham Bell said, "America is a country of inventors, and the greatest of inventors are the newspaper men." How sad that more than 7 million Americans will not regularly read this invention simply because they were not exposed to it as children!

The 7 million person question is what can you do to expose children to the newspaper? Take time to talk to your children about newspapers and model reading it for them. And support organizations like Newspaper in Education, who aim to expose children to newspapers while they are still in grade school. Talk to friends, family and coworkers about the importance of newspapers. Urge them to talk to their children and show them how important newspapers are to a society.

Newspapers are an important vehicle to inform a democratic society. Don't let this generation of children think newspapers are obsolete. You must be an advocate of newspapers if they are to survive for future generations.

Jonathan Seppo is a senior journalism major at MU. After graduation, he will be attending Denver Seminary on a full-ride scholarship. In addition to being a sports fanatic, he loves spending time with his family and fiancé.

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