JUDY WOODRUFF: From one Gen Nexter's desire to follow in his family's footsteps, we head south where another is trying to break free of the past.
JOHN ALLAN CLARK: This place has such a history of racial division. And we're dying because of it.
JUDY WOODRUFF: 25-year-old John Allan Clark grew up 30 miles from Selma -- in Marion, Ala. – the grandson of a farmer, whose views, he says, reflected the bigotry of the old south.
JOHN ALLAN CLARK: All that sort of exploded in the '60s here, and we've been reeling from it ever since.
JUDY WOODRUFF: But that was 50 years ago, there's been time to move on, learn lessons and so forth.
JOHN ALLAN CLARK: What happened after the voting rights movement here, these politicians that sort of came in and took power, rather than healing and learning lessons and making us all better people for it, decided to pick the scabs for politics' sake… and generally make everybody hate each other.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Like many in his generation, John Allan headed
off to college, but after several failed attempts he returned
home to Marion.
JOHN ALLAN CLARK: I was in college because that's where you're supposed to be right? But I didn't know what for.
[passing through town] There's Jean Harris, husband of Gene Harris, they call them Boy Gene and Girl Jean.
Starting a local newspaper
JUDY WOODRUFF: Searching for direction in his life, John Allan landed a job at the weekly newspaper in nearby Linden.
JOHN ALLAN CLARK: I was ostensibly a reporter. Anytime I had a few minutes, I was watching what everybody else did. Because I was really kind of intrigued by this idea of a weekly newspaper. Everybody was in there; the community was totally represented in that paper.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, three years later, an inspired John Allan is editor-in-chief, co-owner, columnist, reporter and delivery boy for his own weekly, hometown paper.
JOHN ALLAN CLARK: I love this place. I sort of thought, maybe, we could contribute something to it. So that's where the newspaper came from.
[on phone] This is John Allan Clark at the Perry County Herald.
JUDY WOODRUFF: You've created a newspaper. At the same time all the surveys show your generation in particular isn't reading newspapers as much as the older generation. But there just seems to be, with the advent of the internet--
JOHN ALLAN CLARK: There are a lot more options. But, there's a place, I think still, and will be for quite a few more years, for a community newspaper. Nobody blogs about Perry County. There's no 24 hour news station down here. We do things that the big newspapers can't do. Or have forgotten how to do.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Which is what?
JOHN ALLAN CLARK: Cover local news.
JUDY WOODRUFF: At their weekly editorial meeting, John Allan
gets together with the rest of the herald's staff: part-time writer
Cara Mae Cirignano and Co-owner Allison Beckett.
ALLISON BECKETT: It's exciting to think that a 20-year-old girl can put out a piece of paper that everyone reads and has changed the community, I believe. We've gotten rid of two county commissioners that have done poor jobs in office, and I think a huge part of that was because of the news we've been writing.
The popularity of service programs
JUDY WOODRUFF: Like Allison and John Allan, Cara Mae is also trying to make a difference.
A few months after graduating from Wellesley College in Massachusetts, with little money in her pocket, she traveled south to Alabama, and a job with Design Corps, a self-help housing program for low income families.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Had you ever been here before?
CARA MAE CIRIGIANO: Uh-uh.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Had you been to Alabama before?
CARA MAE CIRIGIANO: No. (laughter)
JUDY WOODRUFF: What did you think?
CARA MAE CIRIGIANO: I was scared.
JUDY WOODRUFF: What was scary?
CARA MAE CIRIGIANO: The responsibility of starting this program was frightening-- and being so alone.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Service programs like Design Corps, Teach for America and AmeriCorps have grown in popularity with Gen Nexters, in large part because they offer a combination of on-the-job training, money towards education, and a sense of helping others, while deciding what to do with their own lives.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Scott Keeter directed the Generation Next survey at the Pew Research Center.
SCOTT KEETER, Pew Research Center: What we have here is much higher levels of volunteering, community problem solving and other civic activity among this generation than was true for previous groups. That in itself has got to make a significant contribution to sort of the "we-ness," rather than the "I-ness" of this generation.
Breaking racial divides in the newspaper
JOHN ALLAN CLARK: Every Thursday morning I try to get up at about 7:30, put out papers, collect quarters in all the stores in town.
JUDY WOODRUFF: For John Allan Clark, the financial challenge of running the Perry County Herald may have seemed like volunteer work. But after struggling for almost a year, the newspaper is now breaking even.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Indeed, the Perry County Herald is the first Marion paper to publish both white and black obituaries.
JOHN ALLAN CLARK: I don't think anybody thought about the fact that no paper was publishing the black obituaries. But I did.
JUDY WOODRUFF: You really think you can change things in this county?
JOHN ALLAN CLARK: I don't think I can., but I think the newspaper can be a catalyst for change.
It's too early to tell what we've accomplished, if anything. But, we get a lot more compliments than we do threats to burn the office down.