The Third Third

No Senior News is Good News

As if the plain old news isn’t depressing enough (Think wars, refugees, mass shootings, hate, politics, racism, sexism, ZIka and more), the so-called news media today is also posting and publishing really old news to seniors, that is to the marketing demographic they’ve identified as “Seniors.”  And in its own way, it is equally depressing.  If the plain news suggests The Fall of the Roman Empire, the “Senior News” (usually ghettoized in one section of the paper or on age-specific websites) reflects nothing less (and surely nothing more) than the inexorable decline of self conventionally associated with aging. 

It doubles down on every fear of getting old that we’ve grown up — and grown old — with: debilitating health and mobility issues, isolation and loneliness, dementia, and economic insecurity.   It is an editorial effort, apparently,  to sell ads to the folks who want to sell seniors their solutions:  senior housing in lifestyle communities named with “views” and “brooks,” reminiscent of nothing so much as cemeteries, hearing aids, financial planning, assisted living, reverse mortgages, home health care, step-in bathtubs, wheelchair lifts.  The “news” is just fill for the ads, pre-packaged pabulum we called puff pieces in journalism school, or something a magazine publisher I worked for called “advertorial.”

I call it demeaning.  It is certainly not journalism.  It is a disservice to an aging population that needs and wants to be engaged with their community and with the world today, such as it is.  Seniors represent an expansive and expanding demographic the community needs as well — to vote, to volunteer, to give voice to their values and their experiences.  But the News for seniors doesn’t facilitate engagement with anything or anyone except other seniors equally desperate as they may have been made to feel, for a nice, safe place to retreat to and wait to die.  What an abysmal lack of imagination on the part of journalists, our civic institutions and the marketplace!

It cannot be mere anomaly that of the three presidential candidates left standing — Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump and, in his own way, Bernie Sanders — two are 70 and over, and the third would take office at 69.  They haven’t been put out to pasture; the media covers what they say and what they do, talks about their pasts and imagines their futures, writes of their abilities more than their disabilities, and doesn’t wring its hands about who will care for them.  What about the rest of us?

There are a few efforts underway to rewrite these stories, our stories.  Columbia University’s Aging Center and Journalism School launched the Age Boom Academy in 2000 to “educate journalists about the complex health, social and economic issues facing our aging population.”  And the The Gerontological Society of America (GSA) and New America Media (NAM) have for seven years offered a Journalists in Aging Fellowship encouraging coverage of what they call “the significant challenges and opportunities of the longevity revolution.”

For now, though, my local newspaper and even PBS’s Next Avenue, continue to broadcast gloom-and-doom for my demographic.  Recent headlines:  “The Big Problem Retirees Run Into,” “What to say to someone who is dying,” “Japan’s Burial Tradition,” “Take Control of Your Money,”  “Top Five Financial Scams,” “Questioning Benefits: Difference between Disability, Unemployment,” “Is it time to visit about your family’s long-term care for a loved one,” “Shed those pounds.”  What can I do?  Just turn the page, I guess. (The Dallas Morning News section doesn't even show up online!), for these targeted pieces are definitely not speaking to me.  

I am reminded of when I discovered that every “kids activity” in Dallas when we moved here in 1980 had at its core face-painting.  And that’s it.  I wanted a richer, more stimulating community environment for my young children and I cursed the culture and bemoaned the fact that I had to work so hard (and pay so much and drive so far) to provide it.  My situation as a part of our aging demographic feels painfully similar:  No one seems to be thinking about what we really want or need; they’re simply offering the equivalent of face-painting.  I believe we deserve better.  Thirty-some years ago, I edited Dallas Family Magazine and helped create a community resource for all parents.  I'd like to do the same for seniors here with The Third Third.  Here, at least, we have each other to look to for stimulation and inspiration, to share, humbly, what we yearn to try, to be, to do as active, engaged women seeking to make the most of the third third of our lives.

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