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The Kids Don't Care The deal with Millennials + generation z

by Joi Chadwick

joichadwick.com

Twitter: @joiultra  Facebook: joiultra Instagram: @joiultra Pinterest: joiultra

Young people don't care about the news

That's the refrain. Is it the truth?

My sophomore year in high school, the Columbine shooting happened. Over 1,000 miles away, rules changed at Ruston High School - clear or mesh backbacks to protect us. (The students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School got a similar prescription nearly 20 years later.) In my junior year, 2000, I learned the term "hanging chad" and the Supreme Court decided Bush v. Gore, ruling 5-4 to stop the ballot recount because Florida would not be able to conduct a recount in line with the Equal Protection clause by the safe harbor deadline. George W. Bush gained the Presidency. I was a little over three months shy of my 18th birthday (March 24, 2001) and being able to vote. I started college September 2001.

Just before I turned 20 during my sophomore year in college, the United States invaded Iraq, and people destroyed Dixie Chicks CDs because Natalie Maines didn't want the United States to invade Iraq. (I still have my copies of Wide Open Spaces and Fly.) Six months after I turned 21, the CIA's Iraq Survey Group released the Duelfer Report stating they found no evidence to suggest Iraq had restarted their nuclear weapons or chemical munitions programs or made plans for made for a new biological warfare program. America re-elected George Bush that November. Hurricane Katrina hit the gulf coast the next year - when I was 22 - and the levees broke in NOLA. When I was 25, the word was "global financial crisis" and we elected the first alleged Kenyan socialist Muslim as President of the United States. I watched people of my generation in the chorus that seethed with hatred and unfounded fears he would take all their guns away. The year I turned 27, the Supreme Court decided Citizens United, Obamacare became law, and the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded killing 11 people and leaking over 3 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. When I was 29, Obama got re-elected and 20 children and six staff were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

The summer after I turned 30, I watched 17-year old Trayvon Martin's killer walk free. The next year the Flint water crisis began (It's still happening), NYPD put Eric Garner in a fatal chokehold, Renisha McBride's murderer was found guilty, and Mike Brown's killing was the final straw leading to the Ferguson uprising where protesters were met with a militarized response. The year after that Lamia Beard, Penny Proud, Ashton O'Hara, Shade Schuler, and more were murdered. That summer, Twitter alerted me late during the 8:00 pm hour there had been a shooting at a church in Charleston, South Carolina. At 33, Louisiana passed a "Blue Lives Matter" law; Goddess Diamond was killed in New Orleans; 49 people were killed at Pulse nightclub during Pride month; Alton Sterling was killed by police in Baton Rouge and the next day Philando Castile was killed by police in Minnesota; a Supreme court nomination was stalled to nothingness; Russia got ahold of the 2016 election and we got Donald; activists on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation protesting the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline on traditional and ancestral land were met with pepper spray, dogs, sound canons, hoses, and arrest; and my doctor doubled the dosage of my anxiety meds.

At 35, I don't know if I still count as a young person, but I am a millennial - one of the generation responsible for killing everything from mayonnaise (I want to take personal responsibility for that one) to home ownership. (You got "buy a house" money?) I am one who grew up in the transition from analog to digital - from hardbound World Book Encyclopedias to AltaVista to Google, from VHS to DVDs to streaming video. We can carry more information in our pockets than we used to carry in our hulking pre-Columbine school backpacks. Do we care about what's going on in the world - from the moves of intergovernmental organizations to the houses of parliament to the statehouse to the local school board? Do the people of my generation and younger care about the news?

Come with me. We're going to explore this question.

Get off my lawn and into a voting booth

Why don't us kids cast ballots?

Voting is not the only way to participate in democracy or show active concern for what is happening in our world. Many invested in the welfare of their communities don't vote - whether that's due to disillusionment with the political institutions, suppression and disenfranchisement by the state, forgetting to register, or some other reason. Still, we have catch phrases like "Vote or die" and platitudes such as "If you don't vote, don't complain" that beg us to look at voter statistics. (If you look at the language, they also demand we shame and muzzle the non-voter.) And with much get-out-the-vote material aimed specifically at younger people (across time periods), it makes sense to delve into the voter stats on the newbies of the electorate.

First, if you're wondering what generation you fall under, don't fret. Don't start to sweat about whether you're Gen X, a Xennial, a Millennial, Gen Y, a post-Millenial, Gen Z, iGen, etc. For clarity, we're going to use the definitions of the fine folks at Pew Research Group as a guide.

  • Generation Z: born 1997-now(?), 0-21 years old in 2018
  • Millennials: born 1981-1996, 22-37 years old in 2018
  • Generation X: born 1965-1980, 38-53 years old in 2018
  • Baby Boomers: born 1946-1964, 54-72 years old in 2018
  • Silent Generation: 1928-1945, 73-90 years old in 2018
  • The Greatest Generation: 1901-1927, 91-117 in 2018

[The oldest living person in the US currently is 113-year old Lessie Brown.]

Now that we know where we stand on that, let's get into the thick of it!

The kids started it. But not these kids.

In 1980, when the oldest Baby Boomers were 34, the U.S. voting rate for ages 18-29 was 48.2%. For that age range this rate has been fairly characteristic over the last nearly four decades. The 18-29 voting rate dipped to a low of 39.6% in 1996 (when Generation X fit the demographic) and a high of 51.1% in 2008 (mostly Millennials and some late Gen Xers), but it's been in the 40-50% range for all other general election years 1980-2016. What this tells us is there isn't some vast difference between the voting rates of young people today and young people in the two previous generations.

Chart from the United States Census Bureau blog: https://tinyurl.com/mwgjcyp

Why can't you get half the kids to vote?? Pew says young adult turnout depends on factors such as "the candidates, the success of voter mobilization efforts, satisfaction with the economy and the direction of the country." And as mentioned earlier, it also depends on who is allowed to vote and what hoops they have to jump through to vote. How far from Election Day is the voter registration deadline? Will student ID be accepted at the polls? How far do they have to travel to get to a polling place? Has their polling place changed since the last election? Have they been purged from the registration list and don't know it?

Millennials are now the largest generation at 75 million. We're also the most ethnically diverse adult generation at 44% minority (due in part to immigration waves in the 80s and 90s) and more likely than previous generations to identify as TQLGB. Generation Z is estimated to be even more ethnically diverse at 48.5% minority. As the younger chunk of the electorate gets browner and less binary, we will have to see a concerted effort to address issues that directly impact our ability and desire to vote - issues such as voter ID laws, immigration policy, economic disparities (Millennials are more likely to be in poverty than Generation X or Baby Boomers), gerrymandering, inequity in the criminal justice system, violence against gender and sexual minorities, and more - to have a chance at getting voting rates up for the new generations.

Give us substance before we geaux vote

Make your campaign content say something.

Secretary of State is an important role in state governments. If you don’t believe me, look at what is happening with Brian Kemp as Georgia Secretary of State overseeing his own gubernatorial election. Or look at similar allegations against other secretaries of state for abusing power, misusing voter data, and disenfranchising voters. Whoever sits in that office holds sway on whether or not you can exercise your right to vote and how easy or difficult that process may be for you.

Image at right: March in midtown Manhattan on December 10, 2011 to defend voting rights. Photo by Michael Fleshman under CC BY-SA 2.0 license.

In Louisiana, the Secretary of State is the chief elections officer, administrator of corporation and trademark laws, and the state archivist. This office is responsible for business filings, the operation of museums in Louisiana, and proclaiming and publishing Louisiana laws. That sounds like kind of a big deal, right?

We are a little over two weeks out from the midterms - Election 2018. Being a millennial, I was looking over my ballot on the voter portal of the Louisiana Secretary of State website. Here in Louisiana, we have nine candidates for Secretary of State. That might sound like a ridiculous number to people from other states who don't have jungle-adjacent primaries. Here, everyone of whatever party runs in the general election. If someone gets a simple majority (more than 50%) in the general, that person wins the election. If not, we have a runoff between the two with the most votes a month later. So right now, we have nine people to look at for Secretary of State.

I like to do research on the offices and measures I'm going to vote on. For elected officials, I look at campaign websites, social media, news articles, video - anything that can give me indications of how you're going to help people or screw us over. In doing that research, I came across a candidate whose online profiles - website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram - gave me no indications either way. They told me nothing.

The candidate used a slogan repeatedly, but there was no indication of what that slogan really meant. Your slogan has to be standing on something! What do I mean? Let’s take Shirley Chisholm’s Presidential run for example. Now, she didn’t even win the Democratic nomination (and that’s another story), but Shirley had a memorable campaign slogan: Unbought and Unbossed.

Shirley didn't just say she was unbought and unbossed; she showed you how. She stood against the Vietnam War, called for ending job and pay discrimination, said we need to address the inequities in the housing market, and more. And she was consistent. Her political rival, infamous segregationist, George Wallace even told one of his crowds, "[Chisholm] says the same thing in Chicago that she says in Florida. I respect people, whether I agree with them or not, who say the same thing and don't talk out of both sides of their mouths." She didn't change her tune depending on the audience or donors. She told and showed what "Unbought and Unbossed" meant. You didn't have to wonder.

And that's a lesson. If you're going to have a slogan or other content that you want other people to get on board with, make it say something. Make it obvious. Have an issues page or a "My vision for Louisiana" or "My plan as Secretary of State" or at the least one line about a problem you intend to fix or a positive you want to build on. Show me a specific challenge you've addressed in the past that's relevant. Give me SOMETHING. Give me a specific example of how you serving as SOS would be good for #Louisiana, so I, the voter, can go into the booth with the idea "This candidate plans to do these things" and want to press the button by your name.

This article is adapted from one of my Twitter threads. Find me on Twitter: @joiultra

We are killing the news

Younger generations eff up legacy media

Tales of disinterested youth have been known to frolic with lamentations about the ill fortunes of traditional journalism outlets. Newspapers would have majestic circulation rates if young people only gave a damn! The reality, of course, is more complex than that.

Let's visit with some Pew research again. In 2016, TV was the most popular news source for adults 65+ (85%) and those 50-64 (72%). The source 65-uppers went to second most often for news was print newspapers (48%). Online and radio tied at 29% to take second place for adults 50-64. On the other hand, online news sources took the top spot for adults 30-49 (49%) and 18-29 (50%). For each of these age groups, TV was the second go-to for news with 45% and 27% respectively. Radio was the third choice for each while only 10 and 5% of these age groups often looked to print newspapers.

On first glance, TV was clearly king as the most sought after news platform. Overall, 57% of US adults often got their news from cable, local, or network nightly programs. But that break between older and younger adults hinted that TV's spot on the throne wasn't forever. From 2016 to 2017, the total number of adults who often went to TV for news dropped to 50% while the number who went online for news rose from 38% to 43%. At this rate, expect it not to take long for the internet to take the crown.

Consider all this data with a 2015 study by the American Press Institute's Media Insight Project. That study found "Millennials regularly follow a wide range of topics, and virtually everyone’s information diet in this generation involves a mix of hard news, soft news, and more practical or news-you-can-use topics." The younger generations' education and engagement on so many topics is enabled by digital media that meets us where we are and moves with us. This allows our news consumption to be woven throughout our dynamic lives rather than restricted to static sessions. It allows us to investigate issues more deeply without having to wait extended periods or switch between technologies, and it affords us insight from others the world over who have knowledge on topics of interest. And we take advantage of these allowances.

We are killing the news as we knew it when we were younger. The oldest among us maybe had a couple dozen television channels, one or two daily print papers, a short stack of monthly print magazines, and a handful of local AM/FM radio stations when we were old enough to recognize the news. (And that's being generous.) We didn't have the option to compare what the newscaster said about an event to the livestream we just watched of the event. If a local emergency or breaking national story happened, we couldn't look at our smartphones (or watches!) for verification, check with people in that area or national outlets on social media for more information, or get push notifications. We couldn't immediately critique a news outlet on damaging language used in a headline or story. We couldn't instantly locate people of a variety of cultural groups or subject matter experts in an array of fields to help us gain context on current events. We couldn't fact-check speeches and addresses in real-time wherever we were using a calculator-sized device. We have that now. We can do that now. So we use it. We do it.

As we grew and the world changed, we accepted an idea and kept moving. That idea was the news had to die. It has to die, and it has to come with us if it wants to live.

Does it want to live?

Created By
Joi Chadwick
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Credits:

Created with images by stux - "thought cloud idea paper cut out opinion" • John Baker - "You Are Here"

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