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Op-Ed: There's a lack of millennial commentators in the mainstream media

By Brian Booker     Apr 23, 2015 in Politics
With the 2016 Election approaching, many are already wondering if millennials will turn out to vote or campaign. Yet when it comes to participation in society, millennials are often shut out, and no where is that more obvious than in the mainstream media.
Millennials are the turned-off, tuned-out, dropped-out generation that doesn't vote, doesn't follow the news, and doesn't care about politics outside of legalizing marijuana. Or at least that's what we've been told, but before we jump to that conclusion, it's important to ask if us millennials even have anyone to tune into, or anyone who shares our common experiences. When it comes to mainstream media, millennial voices are rare and far between, and that may go a long way in explaining why we're turning off and tuning out.
Consider that the youngest featured columnist ever for the New York Times is Ross Douthat, a sharp, conservative 35-year-old reporter. This means he falls just outside the generally accepted age range for millennials, though notably he was a lively 29 when he joined the Times. More importantly, however, Mr. Douthat doesn't typify the typical liberal-to-moderate political outlook of most millennials. Meanwhile, the rest of the Times columnists aren't exactly spry young folk looking to get a jump on life.
In fact, out of the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, and LA Times, the only genuine millennial columnist appears to be Catherine Rampell at the Washington Post. There's also James Kirchik over at the New York Daily News. Perhaps another writer or two slipped through my search, but a quick scroll through the columnist list of any major newspaper will reveal a dearth of young writers and an abundance of gray hairs and leather-worn faces.
It's not just columnists either. Over the past few decades traditional journalists have also been growing older. In 1992, the average age of a journalist was 36, by 2002 it had jumped to 41, and by 2013 it had risen to 47.
Given the increasing age of journalists and columnists, is it really so hard to understand why millennials are tuning out? Like every generation, we millennials have issues we care about, like starting our careers, contending with skyrocketing college tuition & student loans, and leaving our parent's basement behind. And no offense, we want neither pity nor scorn from older commentators who lived in different times and faced completely different circumstances. We want our own voices and our own seat at the table.
Of course, it should come as no surprise that older individuals write more columns and articles in newspapers. After all, more seasoned writers have had more time to craft their skills and build their resumes. Still, for a society that espouses representation and for a media system that supposedly strives to inform all of its viewers, it should be a given that millennials have at least some ability to express their views through mainstream media. We're not talking about being given the keys to the car, we're just asking not to be stuffed into the trunk.
Further, given that only 11 percent of Americans aged 18 to 29 trust the media to “do the right thing”, it's in the mainstream media's interests to cultivate relationships with millennials. After all, younger generations grow old, and with tuned-out millennials just now entering their prime, media outlets may soon find themselves preaching to deaf ears and averted eyes.
Yet so far it seems that the best chance millennials have of making their own voices heard before they get gray hairs of their own is to develop their own media outlets. The most prominent and focused “millennial media” company is arguably Mic.com, a New York based start-up that is staffed exclusively by younger voices. Efforts by younger writers, activists, and techies are certainly applaudable and will undoubtedly make a difference. Even so, the lack of younger commentators in mainstream media will effectively shut younger people and their issues out of mainstream discussions.
No one can blame media outlets for having a preference for seasoned veterans and commentators who have worked their way up the ladder. Still, media outlets should make an effort to represent their entire audience, and even the entire society they serve. That means providing a platform for minorities, women, and yes younger writers to express themselves.
In the past, newspapers and TV stations could have cited limited print space and air time as reasons to exclude younger commentators and to favor more proven ones. But let's be honest, there are about as many millennials reading the print version of the New York Times as there are millennials writing for it. Millennials are an all-digital generation, and bandwidth is cheap. Thus, mainstream media organizations have no real reason to exclude millennial voices except for the sake of exclusivity itself. In a world increasingly built on openness and accessibility, that type of arrogance runs the risk of alienating everyone left without a seat at the table.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
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