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What does traditional media need to do to win back the trust of Millennials?

What does traditional media need to do to win back the trust of Millennials?

by Etienne Darcas, RMIT Student and Media Stable Intern.

Millennials – a contemporary stand in for young adults. They resemble an amorphous, grey blob of supposedly disinterested, disengaged and disoriented people. This is, of course, what the traditional media describes us as being. It should then come as no surprise that younger Australians feel an innate distrust of the traditional media in this country. The monotonous routine of calling out millennials for the above vices has almost become banal. I can’t claim to be the voice of this huge and indistinct blob of young Australians, but I can echo the sentiments of many who feel purposefully marginalised and mischaracterised. According to the University of Canberra’s “Digital News Report: Australia 2017”, trust amongst adult Australians for the media remains at a stunningly low 42%, and it remains highly likely that this figure could be even lower for younger Australians. Several RMIT students who I contacted for this blog stated they had “zero faith in the media’s integrity” or that the media landscape is “pretty untrustworthy”. 64% of these young Australians expressed their view that the Australian media did not portray the issues of young Australians faithfully. Case in point; these are hardly high praises for a sector that holds as much sway as it does over the socio-political fabric of Australia.

So much doom and gloom. There is, however, a light at the end of the tunnel. In recent years, forward-looking producers have heard the pleas of young Australians and have endeavoured to create programs which reflect the issues that face them. Take for example SBS ‘Viceland’. The series explores issues that are pertinent to many young Australians, ranging from social justice to the exploration of exotic, far-flung places of the world. Channel 10’s ‘The Project’ also works in a similar vein, talking about issues of youth unemployment, climate change and identity. These are admirable efforts from an industry sometimes neglects to acknowledge the deficit in trust that exists between young Australians and itself. While these are welcome steps towards mending this divide, one cannot help but feel that more could be done and said.

Perhaps the best example we have of a program that looks at the acute social-political-economic issues of young people is Triple J’s ‘Hack’, which is never one to shy away from detailing the realities of being a young Australian in the 21st century. However, it must be pointed out that a program such as this, as well as others like 3CR and Triple R, exist solely on the fringe of the traditional media as outliers which often struggle to make ends meet.

Trust in the traditional media is not granted by virtue of its monopoly on information, but rather earned. Trust cannot come before respect, so until respect can be had between both groups, there will continue to be a lack of trust for the traditional media. So, what can the traditional media do to win back the trust of Millennials? As a young person who works in the media sphere, I am compelled to make the point that we are not looking for token representation in the media, but rather a wholistic and realistic representation of our demographic. I warn of the danger of the traditional media tokenizing Millennials because such an act represents a two-way street. It is easy for any media organisation to cast a lazy and insincere light on Millennial Australians. The traditional media needs to realise that the way it discusses youth issues can reinforce the view that the they aren’t paying real attention to the issues of young people. This, I believe, is the danger that both the traditional media and Millennials face going forward. We require the sincere representation of our issues, as there is more to the Australian Millennial experience than simply sex, drugs and smashed avocado. There is social justice. There is housing affordability. There is the economy. There is the climate. And above all else, there is the recognition that we, as fellow Australians in an uncertain time, deserve the same recognition and respect that other sections of society enjoy.

Respect. That is the key word. Millennial Australians aren’t hostile to the traditional media, but they do feel as though they aren’t given the respect that their issues deserve. Herein lies the fundamental issue that the traditional media faces with Millennials. Until respect is earned, trust cannot exist. The challenge for traditional media is to bridge this divide, and to not be tokenistic in doing so. Positive signs are there, but we can still do so much more.

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