Do we really understand the young?
My twenty or so students in this journalism class were looking bored and frustrated. Most of them were not even looking at me; they were deeply into their morning Twitter searches, which offered much more interesting options than my insistence to analyze Turkey’s current news agenda. The subject of the class was news writing and, in particular, the formulas of compiling news bulletins: How you choose news, where do you find it, how you evaluate it, how you verify it, in which order do you place it, how you keep accuracy and fairness, etc. All that, for an exercise of a five-minute news bulletin. Difficult stuff, even for professional journalists these days in Turkey.
Admittedly, it was a difficult day for news: Just six days after the Ankara bombing, with conflicting news about the identity of the bombers, strong statements by the government against the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), conflicting information about Syria and the Russian attack on the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). On top, issues with the EU regarding the refugee crisis plus, of course, the ongoing election campaign in its last phase.
In vain, I tried to lift the interest of my audience by highlighting the “fun” aspect of trying to catch fresh news, “the fresher, the better,” etc. Nothing worked. The exception was the ever-interested and energetic Erasmus students who, since the beginning of the semester in October, had familiarized themselves with Turkey’s news-rich environment. Some were already reporting for their countries’ local media. But on that day, the rest of the class was refusing to follow my enthusiasm of how interesting would be to be in the news business at this moment of history in Turkey and to carry out the responsibility of informing the public properly.
So, in desperation and with deep doubts over my competency as a teacher, I decided to stop the lecturing and resort to a well-known teacher “exit from trouble method,” of assigning “homework.” I asked them to leave the class for two hours and work on their own, compiling and writing a news bulletin with all the latest news that had taken place in Turkey and abroad during those two hours.
They did and sent their homework, and we met again to discuss it. Most had missed the flash news story of the shooting down of the “Russian?” drone on the Turkish-Syrian borders but inside Turkey’s territory. When we discussed the story further, it turned out that they did not know much about what was happening in Syria, who else is involved besides ISIL and Assad. Also, they were neither interested nor familiar with the problem of migrants or European policies --Merkel’s visit was due soon-- but they seemed very preoccupied with the elections in Turkey.
“Have you decided what you are going to vote?” I asked them. Most of them nodded their head but did not elaborate. They nodded again when I asked them where they thought this was an important election for their country.
I must have been a little too pressing trying to understand their mind-set over current political developments, when one girl raised her hand and said, “Perhaps, I speak on behalf of many in this class, but we know which party we do not want to vote for. And as for which party to vote, we are between two options.”
Conclusion: it is very easy to underestimate young people’s understanding of the world and the depth of their awareness of their social and political environment. The attitude of young people during the Gezi Park mobilization should have taught us a lesson. Maybe these young people are a bit older, more aware, perhaps more scared, but they are still alert and vigilant. And I think this is going to be reflected in the way they cast their vote this time.