How Millennials Read the News

Kirt Sandhu/Staff Illustrator

Madeleine Lee
Staff Reporter

Google the word “millenial” and it will politely tell you that you spelled it wrong. Google the word “millennial,” with two n’s this time, and you’ll wish you hadn’t.

If you’re anywhere between 15 and 35, this Google search will unveil 18 million results that are all, allegedly, about you. Vulture claims it has finally discovered the first great millennial novel. Forbes is trying to figure out how to engage you as a member of the millennial labor force — picture a large, faceless corporate giant waving an iPhone above your head as you try to reach it from below. The New York Times went so far as to place the decline of the cereal market square on your allegedly lazy shoulders, because 40 percent of millennials think it too inconvenient to clean up after eating it.

Putting aside how stale the name has become and how haunting its syllables must sound echoing through Hillary Clinton’s nightmares, the real issue that crops up after a quick scroll is this: although the talk on millennials is rampant, it is a conversation that is overwhelmingly conducted in third person — the media content that flows forth from every orifice and online platform reveals more of the assumptive musings of an older generation than a voice of the millennial generation itself.

This is where the newest trend of “reporting” steps in. Online platforms like The Odyssey Online have come to dominate the news read by millennials via social media by putting the power of reporting in their young, capable hands. The Odyssey Online, for example, just shy of celebrating its second birthday, features over 6000 content creators in over 600 Odyssey communities, many of which are centered around university campuses. They target campus career websites (like Black Sheep’s recent ad on Gaucholink) and swallow up Facebook newsfeeds with articles like “Every Song at Your Seventh Grade Party Ranked” and “An Open Letter to A Former Best Friend.”

Many of these articles are entertaining and true to each site’s mission statement, written by millennials and for millennials.  But the grassroots-type effort that each company lays claim to, boasting about themselves as if millennials are at the forefront of the effort, is a blatant lie. These platforms go so far as to exploit — and essentially quell — the diverse voice of the millennial generation.

These websites are tech startups founded by entrepreneurial college students looking to get an edge on the madness of Silicon Valley. Though they are not themselves a social media platform, the comment-and-share nature of social platforms is the backbone of their existence. The Odyssey Online is going so far as to boast that “ninety percent of Odyssey content is encountered in social channels, and because someone the reader knows shared it with them.” Their primary goal is growth via social media because the faster they grow, the more valuable the site becomes. Content tends to suffer as articles — churned out at a rate of 2,000 a week for the Odyssey — sound very much the same. Flooding the market with the voice of millennials by capitalizing on “clickbait” headlines and repetitive content may not be what millennials had in mind when they voiced representation concerns.

As a consequence, aspiring corporate conglomerates are quelling creativity.  They encourage writers to rely on the crutches of the open letter format, and continue to inspire content that focuses on the everyday of college life or evokes nostalgia of middle school days readers thought they’d buried long ago. The lack of diversity in content says something to the nature of a heavily curated platform that cares more about its value than the impact it has on its readership. It quells the possibility for creativity, and does nothing to widen the youth perspective on the world, as quality news should. If larger issues, like the presidential race or the refugee crisis, are exclusively left to other publications, then the youth voice is deprived of an opportunity to educate millennial readers and writers on issues that are crucially relevant.