The Importance of Incorporating Youth Voices and Perspectives in Media
By: Clare Jones, Mercy High School, Detroit
The media has shifted. The simple days of getting your morning newspapers and watching a standard six o'clock news broadcast have transformed into a 24-hour news cycle through social media and streaming services. The gap dividing how Generation Z (those born from 1995-2015) consumes media and the “traditional” media is growing, and Gen Z is increasingly absent within the mainstream media’s reports about issues deeply impacting us.
Generation Z is committed to solving social issues such as gun control, climate change, and racial inequality. Despite there being an array of additional media platforms and evidently more airtime for a variety of stories to get covered, there is still an issue with the media’s ability to report stories that include young people.
What is unique about Gen Z is that we are the most ethnically diverse generation ever. While we are diverse, we have largely chosen to advocate for some of the most prevalent social issues that surprisingly impacts us fairly equally as human beings.
One of the issues many members of Gen Z advocates for is gun control. The spread of mass shootings has emerged to affect a plethora of American communities nationwide regardless of financial income, ethnicity, and other disparities. The active shooter drills that are practiced at schools throughout the country have heightened students' anxiety as they realize that no school community is exempt from a mass shooting. Even as stories continually get reported about the rise in massive school shootings nationwide, Gen Z's anxiety about shootings and vocal protest for safer gun control has sometimes been overlooked in the media. At Santa Fe High School in Texas, eight students were fatally shot and others wounded during a school shooting. Many of the local reports did not highlight students that were witnesses and victims affected by gun violence.
However, after the shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, some students were highlighted by the media for taking a stance for reforming gun laws in the country, and that reporting delivered a new perspective that had remained unheard: that of Gen Z.
As a result, this issue becomes personal, collectively expanding Gen Z's voice on a larger scale: motivating other young adults to advocate for changes to gun control policies. When the media gives Gen Z participants a voice about how specific issues such as guns affect us, there is rising awareness about topics in need of discussion and the overall message becomes more compelling for Gen Z to read and allows for proposed reforms to be more inclusive of young people, especially on issues like these in which Gen Z is a significant stakeholder.
The Impact of Youth Voices
Including young people in media coverage allows for proposed legislation to have greater impact on the ability to transform specific laws that are disproportionately hurting Gen Z. Talking to youth stakeholders can improve the current conversations about gun control because it can help promote a compromise between students and the rest of society. This compromise could help to ensure guns are stored in regulated and safe areas and that gun owners do not put innocent lives at risk in a school environment as a result of lax unregulated gun control laws.
Similarly, the Black Lives Matter movement has sparked a rise of diverse Gen Z protestors who are advocating against police brutality and racially motivated violence against Black people. According to a CIRCLE poll, 27% of young people (ages 18-24) say they have attended a march or demonstration in 2020. This percentage has risen significantly from 2016 and 2018 (5% and 16%, respectively).
While not all of us may be victims of racial injustice, we see our friends, neighbors, and schoolmates victimized within their own communities. As a result of the enormous demonstrations against many wrongful deaths from police brutality like those of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, mainstream media could not ignore covering the support for bringing social justice and against human casualties. But where is the consistency in coverage? Must thousands of Gen Z activists demonstrate in order to be heard?
As Gen Z rises into adulthood, it is evident that issues concerning race and the environment are more prevalent for us than for generations past. Gen Z's sustained participation, advocacy, and leadership towards racial justice, non-violence, and clean environments demonstrate we are more engaged than previous generations. Ironically, much of the media's coverage of these nationwide protests does not include interviews with Gen Z activists.
It is essential for mainstream media to feature broader and more comprehensive viewpoints that reflect Gen Z's demographics which are often currently missing in the news today. Reading major media outlets such as The Washington Post reporting stories of young activists like Aly Conyers, 17, a Black Lives Matter activist, personally brings me joy and reminds me why advocating for social issues is deeply crucial to helping the world progress toward an inclusive society. Allowing young people to speak for ourselves through major publications, instead of older generations speaking on our behalf, provides greater authenticity, and the attention of older generations leads to an understanding of why Gen Z remains invested in advocating for racial justice, gun violence, and the environmental causes.
When mainstream media features a spokesperson from Gen Z, the content seems to effectively motivate older generations to listen. Greta Thunberg, a Generation Z climate change activist, has propelled much of the world to recognize the importance of climate change by advocating renewable energy use, reducing our carbon footprint, and eliminating fossil fuels. Thunberg's weekly school climate strikes, known as “Fridays for Future,” have been gaining global attention since the fall of 2019. Despite Thunberg's efforts, the media has stopped covering the ongoing effects of climate change consistently. Is it because this issue is no longer important?
The media educates its viewers about critical issues affecting the world, often through a Boomer perspective that reflects the demographics of newsrooms. As a result, the media is ineffective in educating the public to fully understand the consequences of not working towards solutions. Like Thunberg, through long-term communications on social issues, the mainstream media can improve the public's ability to analyze the complexity of social issues on a broader scale.
Currently, social media is the communication platform of choice for quickly disseminating information among Gen Z. Social media has allowed Gen Z to create and produce content about social issues many aspire to change in which our voices are acknowledged, and not overlooked, about social issues many aspire to change. Because Gen Z has found it challenging to integrate our own voices into mainstream news platforms, social media has allowed us to prove that we want to continue to engage in advocating for change: but want our voice to be heard. Gen Z social activists believe to affect change there needs to be representation not only just through social media but also rather through multifaceted communication outlets. Until mainstream media outlets allow for Gen Z to have sustained representation through their media platforms, youth viewership and readership will remain difficult for these major companies to attract and maintain.
The passionate voices that make Generation Z advocate for change on a variety of social media platforms, but if these voices were integrated with traditional news media, it would allow older audiences to discover and analyze America’s youth viewpoints. By having older generations understand our desire for changes within our communities, we hope these adults will understand the consequences of not solving social issues that negatively impact all our lives.
Clare Jones is from Detroit, Michigan. She is a senior at Mercy High School and aspires to be a broadcast journalist.