Will Rogers Monument

A monument to American humorist Will Rogers is shown in Barrow, Alaska, where he died in a plane crash.

Joey Chenoweth, PinalCentral’s twenty-something county editor, recently admitted that whenever he reads columns by me, Bill Coates or Jim Headley, he sometimes has to look up our pop culture or historical references.

It’s safe to say the three of us are all over 50.

Joey mentioned that he had to look up who Will Rogers was after I quoted the popular political humorist from the 1930s a couple of months ago.

During the recent conversation, Sports Editor Brian Wright, another millennial colleague, interjected: “Is he Aaron Rodgers’ father?”

Welcome to the world of a cross-generational newsroom.

Of course, it also works the other way. When the millennials in the newsroom are talking about some current pop star I don’t recognize, I secretly look them up on the internet to see who they are talking about.

When I was a child and I read something in the newspaper about a location or historical figure I didn’t know, I would ask my father who it was. He often replied, “Look it up.” That usually meant he didn’t know the answer, but I took it as a lesson on how to acquire knowledge.

He was a teacher, you know.

Besides, my father had made a hefty investment in an extensive Encyclopedia Britannica set, and he wanted it to get used.

Before the internet came along, an encyclopedia library was a staple in most middle class American households. It became the go-to resource for children preparing for a history test or essay writing assignment. Many teachers were also keenly aware of how to spot encyclopedic plagiarism in assignments.

I even ran into a pop culture generational gap while hiking in the backcountry of Alaska’s Denali National Park this summer. Every time we had to negotiate our way through heavy wooded underbrush where we could only see a few feet in front of us, our guide, a twenty-something college student from Maine, would yell out “Heyyyyyyyyy bear!” to announce our presence to the burly bruins. This was so we didn’t surprise the bears and they had ample opportunity to evade us if they so desired.

The way she made the announcement reminded me of a popular comedy duo from my childhood, so I joined in by yelling “Heyyyyyyyy Abbott!”

She turned to me and asked “Are you giving the bears names now?”

My friend tried to explain to her who Abbott and Costello were, but she just shrugged her shoulders like “whatever.”

Pop culture references and jokes really don’t cross generations very well.

But I respect people, especially younger journalists, when they use technology to gain knowledge of historical references. There are numerous sources on the web, such as Wikipedia, where information is only seconds away from our fingertips.

Heck, now with voice command devices, you don’t even have to type. You can just verbally ask a question.

Millennials consume information in different ways than previous generations, and their paths to discovery are more nuanced and varied than some may have imagined, according to a study by the Media Insight Project, a collaboration of the American Press Institute and the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

Many millennials use social media as a starting point for news and information. They then click on links to credible sources to get more information if they so desire. This practice even extends to face-to-face interaction, where someone will look up information quickly on their smartphone that might be the subject of conversation.

However, with an infinite amount of information at our disposal on the internet, it is a shame many of us use the technology to watch cat videos and argue with strangers on social media.

There was no encyclopedia for that when I was a kid.

If there is ever a reference or term in a conversation with a millennial that I don’t understand, I am FOMO on the joke or topic.

That means “Fear of Missing Out.”

I looked it up.


You can reach Assistant Managing Editor Andy Howell at ahowell@pinalcentral.com.