Last year we ran several posts on media coverage of the Beloit Mindset List, including coverage that was critical of the list. This year’s coverage suggests that almost nobody cares much about the list anymore. It is reprinted and/or linked on numerous web pages of local newspapers and T.V. stations, but I found very few examples of media taking it seriously enough to editorialize about it, have a reporter investigate a local angle, or otherwise suggest it’s anything other than just another listicle.
A few exceptions:
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel ran a story by Karen Herzog that mentioned Beloit Mindlessness, quoted my post from the day before the list ran, and added this endorsement of our work:
While Nief and McBride spent the past year researching historical and cultural references from 1996, their detractors spent the year methodically ripping the 1,000-plus items that have appeared on the Mindset List since its birth in 1998.
(We were also endorsed in this post in the Jacksonian American blog, which also notes that “the original Beloit List for this year is not very interesting. I remember the mid-1990s as a much more exciting and revolutionary time, but maybe that’s just me.”)
Scott Jaschik, who last year wrote a story featuring Beloit Mindlessness, posted a perfunctory piece giving several Mindset List items and linking to last year’s story for a example of “some criticism” of the list.
Michael Leddy calls this year’s list “a particularly tasteless and clueless array of hastily selected cultural fragments” in a short post and links to his previous posts bashing the list.
Dawn Dugle of The (Jackson, Mississippi) Clarion-Ledger calls the list’s creators “a little out of touch with this generation,” citing Facebook and Skype as technology students aren’t likely to use.
A few stories quote Messrs. McBride and Nief. Here is McBride in a Wisconsin Radio Networks story displaying his characteristic derision for professors:
He says it helps to explain to educators some of the cultural divides they may experience with students heading into a new school year, which can be used to adapt how their classes and lectures are run. McBride says that, while some professors may prefer to see their material as “platinum-encased, time honored, and universal,” the truth is that time passes and things need to change. Being able to understand what students have experienced can help improve efforts to teach them. (Emphasis mine)
A blog post by the aforementioned Karen Herzog of the Journal Sentinel,includes more of Nief’s ramblings, including the too-good-to-be-true suggestion that the pair are thinking about retiring from their list-making:
Mostly, the annual list sparks conversations among those who enjoy lists, and makes baby boomers feel old, according to Ron Nief, 71, who retired five years ago as Beloit College’s director of public affairs.
Given previous pronouncements about the Mindset List’s importance, it’s good to see that Nief recognizes that its real target audience is people “who enjoy lists.”
Nief for the past 17 years has been co-authoring the Mindset List with Tom McBride, who spent 43 years in a Beloit College classroom before retiring earlier this year as professor of English emeritus.
Next week, the two will begin working on a list for next year’s freshman class, culling newspaper microfilms for headlines and ads from the year that class was born.
At some point I’d like to put together a story on the pair’s changing accounts of the origins of the list and how they compile it. At one point, they claimed that the ur-list was written by someone else, they were mistaken for the authors after they distributed it and then decided to do one themselves. The more recent origin stories omit that detail. There is also a new claim that the list was always about defending students from people accusing them of ignorance, which seems risible given the list’s portrayal of students as solipsistic idiots.
I think the bit about getting to work on the list a year ahead is recent as well. And if you’re going to spend an entire year reading a previous year’s worth of newspapers, wouldn’t you want a product more substantial than a list of 55 items, like a book, or a magazine article, or a series of entertaining blog posts?
“I keep thinking that when the lead item is: ‘There’s always been a Mindset List,’ maybe that will be the time to let someone else do it,” Nief said Monday. “In two more years, they will never have lived in the 20th century.”
Er, in two more years matriculating college students will have been born in 1998, which would seem to be part of the 20th Century.
Finally, here’s another telling account of their research methods from a Chicago Tribute story by Lisa Black:
“You start with the baseline of the year they were born,” said McBride, adding that the two scour the Web, search microfiche and talk to older students, parents, faculty and others. “We get together, figure out what we have found, what factoids stand out and what sort of ways does the culture of the youth generation connect to the adult culture.”
So they talk to older students, faculty and others? Did it ever occur to them to talk to actual members of the Class of 2018?