By RACHEL WEST – MANAGING EDITOR
Yahoo wants to tell us “Why Millennials Will Never Be Happy.” Time calls millennials the “Me Me Me Generation” who “are lazy, entitled narcissists.” A Slate article purports that millennials “can’t think for themselves.” The New York Times asks us, “Do Millennials Stand a Chance in the Real World?” (Spoiler alert: according to all these articles, the answer is no.)
Millennials, the category that has become popular to describe the range of the population that was born between the years of 1980-2000 and into which all Centre College students fall, have been lighting up national headlines recently.
You cannot flip open the New York Times or turn to your daily glance at Buzzfeed without running into another article purporting to understand those of us in the Generation Y category.
The problem with this news coverage — a problem that many journalists and critics are beginning to point out — is that the majority of it falls into the neutral to negative attitude with emphasis on the negative.
All millennials have heard the oft-repeated generational criticisms. We are lazy, entitled, afraid of hard work, and had everything handed to us as children. We live in our parents’ basements because we cannot get a job. We are commitment-phobic and are too fond of hook-up culture. We are politically and socially cynical and disengaged.
We won’t fit in to corporate culture because we give up too easily and think of ourselves as special. We are obsessed with social media, selfies, our iPhones, and, above all, ourselves.
It is not a new media trend. Each upcoming generation always has naysayers referring to the entire generation as the downfall of society. Past generations were also thought to be lazy and too obsessed with whatever was popular at the time, be that the computer, the boombox, or the Beatles.
For the millennials, however, the naysaying is starting to become particularly vitriolic, as though past generations have a reason to want the entire generation to fail.
Until the very recent past, the majority of news stories that explicitly named millennials as the subject matter were negative, like the examples listed above.
Of those that could be considered neutral, the majority of them were simple fact-based pieces, such as an NBC News piece on fewer millennials driving.
Among other neutral articles, the use of the word “millennial” is used to recycle an obviously old story and try to give it a new context, such as the New York Times reporting on how young women in college have sex (because, obviously, that started with the millennial generation).
Of those news stories that could be considered positive about millennials, few of them can be considered outright approving of the generation. Many positive pieces are about millennial entrepreneurs, the men and women designing and creating the newest trends in media and social media, but these pieces are tinged with the idea that such entrepreneurship is exceptional, not the norm.
Even pieces that seem incredibly positive, such as stories about studies that find that millennials are more altruistic than previous generations, are paired with phrases such as “than you gave them credit for” or “than they would appear.”
The most interesting part about these articles is that, though they appear to be increasing in number, the millennial generation is still a vastly underreported and underrepresented generation.
Those classified as millennials in the United States make up 25% of the national population. All millennials are now old enough to be classified as anywhere from teenagers to early thirties.
By all rights, if media is truly representative, a full quarter of stories in any day’s newspaper should be a story that directly relates to millennials. That simply does not happen, however.
Few stories are about the millennial generation directly. When journalists cover stories that are or should be of importance to the millennial generation, the millennial perspective is rarely covered.
Millennials aren’t asked their opinions by journalists. Most of the time, the opinion is just assumed.
The underrepresentation and negative portrayal of millennials by the mainstream media is incredibly dangerous both for millennials and for the mainstream media. For the media, there’s another common headline that they are being forced to print again and again: “Dying.”
Mainstream media, in particular newspapers and broadcast media, are having a difficult time staying afloat. There are a lot of reasons why the decline is happening, of course, including less advertisement, a move toward online and social media platforms, and economic sustainability, but alienating a full quarter of the prospective reader base does not help matters either.
Millennials might be leading the charge to online and social news platforms. They might be, as mainstream media claims, disengaged from the news cycle entirely.
Who, really, can blame them? A certain level of mindfulness about what other people think about your generation is necessary, of course, but it is too much to expect that a millennial reader will continue engaging with a source of media that either denigrates them on a regular basis or ignores that they exist.
Online and social news platforms have done a much better job of engaging and understanding the millennial generation, and thus millennials are flocking to those sources. Millennials are engaged in the hunt for the next great news source (or they are thinking about creating it).
Mainstream media only has itself to blame for the alienation of a large percentage of the population. If article choice is any indication, those in power there still don’t fully understand what they have done.
And what about that 25% of the population that is part of the millennial generation? As a member of the generation, I’ll admit that it is possible that our generation does embody some of the negative stereotypes assigned to us, though arguably a good deal of the negative stereotypes are based solely on the segment of the millennial generation that belongs in the white upper-middle class.
I will concede, however, that we might be on social media sites a bit too much. Maybe we care a lot more about our phones than previous generations think we should. And sure, we have issues getting jobs, though again, we might ask how the economic downturn was our fault.
It is impossible, however, for our outlook to be as dire as it has been made to seem.
For a generation that came of age experiencing 9/11, that has faced a declining employment market thanks to an economic recession, and that is constantly being maligned in the press, we seem to be going above and beyond expectations, becoming entrepreneurs, founding new social welfare projects, and taking the steps forward for our generation.
The millennial generation cares about issues of equality, social injustice, and poverty.
We seem less the “Me Me Me” generation that Times is afraid of and more of the “Us Us Us” generation that wants to unite the world. It just becomes harder to do that when every newspaper is proclaiming we cannot.
The mainstream media needs to get a reality check about the way they are handling the millennial generation. Otherwise, media as we know it is due for change, and the millennial generation will be the ones to provide it.