Being a Gen-Xer is a lot like being a middle child. Reporters, marketers and researchers seem enthralled by our older and younger generational siblings, completely ignoring those of us born between 1965 and 1980. It stings, but being cynical at heart, we shrug it off with our favourite Generation X comeback: “Whatever.”
Now a new cohort, Generation Z, those born between 1997 and 2012, is coming of age, and marketers are scrambling to define their characteristics. In North America, for example, Gen Z is the most racially and ethnically diverse generation ever. They’ve used digital technology from a young age, and media content permeates their daily lives. Whether they’re streaming videos or music, playing video games, or reading books and magazines (yes, many of them still do), they’re looking for content “that represents the entire spectrum of diverse individuals,” according to a recent survey conducted by Vice Media and Ontario Creates.
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As a publisher, I need to understand Gen Z as media consumers. But as an editor, I’m also intrigued by who they are as media creators. In the last couple of years, Gen Z journalists have become my colleagues through Broadview’s summer internship program.
The candidates we interviewed this year struck me as some of the most thoughtful young journalists I’ve ever met. They spoke openly of their racial, gender and sexual identities. They defined their own privilege and articulated how it shapes their approach to telling stories about other communities. They were asking themselves: “How can I elevate marginalized voices?” “When should I step aside as a professional storyteller to let other voices lead the narrative?” Or in the words of our successful intern, KC Hoard: “How do we mend the gap between settler journalists and Indigenous peoples?”
Thinking back on my own journalism education, the contrast is startling. I don’t remember examining our identities as storytellers, or the bias we might bring while reporting. We didn’t discuss diversity. We barely gave a passing thought to the impact of our work on the people whose stories we told. Our sole mission was to dig out facts, get the quotes and grab front-page headlines.
Journalism as a whole has become much more sensitive and self-aware in the 20 years since I graduated, and this publication has, too. The internship applicants told us they like Broadview because it aligns with their values. They noted its commitment to diversity and to amplifying marginalized voices. In Broadview, they see an opportunity to tell the kinds of stories that can shift public opinion and inspire positive change.
Hearing these comments melts my cynical Gen X heart. I hope we can live up to Gen Z’s idealism and continue to learn from their example.
P.S. During the pandemic, there are so many front-line workers to whom we owe a debt of gratitude. I would like to acknowledge a special group of people who work at Transcontinental Printing. Thank you for continuing your work so this issue can be printed. Be safe and know that you are appreciated.
This editorial first appeared in Broadview’s July/August 2020 issue with the title “A new generation.”