I started typing into Google, “Do Millennials,” but the search engine was way ahead of me. “Stand a chance,” it suggested.
“Yeah,” I thought, “I really need to write this series.”
Millennials are described variously as the 18-34 demo or as anyone born between 1980 and 2000. The age boundary is fuzzy, but the internet is filled with angry think pieces about how badly we’re failing society. These are opportunities for the generations that embroiled us in two decades of costly war, sold off the environment, and financially gutted the middle class to tell us we’re not responsible enough. Millennials are too distracted, they say. Millennials are the Me Generation, they say, while trying to argue it’s ruining the heyday of “American Exceptionalism” and “Americentrism.” Who’s the real Me Generation now?
Parenting that told us we could do or be anything is now criticized for being unrealistic and unhealthy, rather than blaming the political decisions that took our best opportunities away.
I’m going to investigate what we do better than other generations, and I’m going to start with two of the most egregious stereotypes – that we don’t read anymore, and we’re less aware of the world. So here’s a bombshell:
We just do. Pew Research Center discovered that 88% of Millennials have read a book in the past year. Only 79% of older generations have. We’re also more likely to use a library and a library website, although when asked how vital libraries are, we tend to idealize them less. We’re more likely to use multiple formats to read (hard copy, tablet, or smartphone), and we supplement with audio books more often. With easier access to more books without even leaving home, we cite libraries as more important for the quiet space than for the books.
The stereotype is that Millennials are oblivious to the world at large and that we don’t care about politics, as if older generations have done a bang-up job of fixing the world.
The Media Insight Project revealed that 85% of Millennials say keeping up with the news is at least somewhat important to us. A full 40% of us pay for news-specific services or digital subscriptions, and 45% of us read five or more “hard news” topics a day.
Contrary to popular belief, seeking out news is the third most frequent activity for Millennials online, behind e-mail and checking weather, traffic, and public transit (and I’d argue this is a form of checking the news, too). News is a bigger priority for us than playing games; checking friends’ social media; streaming music, TV, and movies; or shopping.
We also don’t want crazy, multi-media experiences we can skim through. We like our articles in blocks of text more than older generations.
We follow science & technology, social issues & civil rights, culture reporting, and entertainment more than other generations.
The only topics that less than half of millennials follow are education (49%), sports (41%), and lifestyle (40%). In fact, we care about sports and lifestyle much less than other generations.
In fact, 70% of Millennials read the news on a daily basis, but there’s one thing we don’t do.
That CNN image alone should tell you why we can’t take mainstream news seriously. Millennials don’t rely on the same news sources every day. We seek out alternative news sources, and we cultivate our news via social network. Contrary to claims that this narrows the range of what we read, it actually expands what we’re willing to consider – 75% of Millennials regularly read articles that offer opinions different from our own, 73% seek out these opinions, and 70% say their social media feeds are evenly split between news viewpoints similar to and different from their own.
According to the Media Insight Project, the #1 reason Millennials cite for using news is to stay informed and be a better citizen.
For some, news is a choice between CNN, Fox, and MSNBC, and chances are you stick with only one or two of those channels.
The most favored manner of seeking out news for Millennials is by using search tools – it’s the primary method for more than half of us. We also mix various platforms when finding news. In order of popularity, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, Reddit, and Tumblr are our biggest social sources for news gathering. The average Millennial uses three or more social networks on a regular basis to cultivate news from other sites, and remember this is in addition to more than half of us regularly using search tools to research news, and the 40% of us who have news media subscriptions.
We don’t trust a single corporate news editor to tell us what matters anymore. Instead, we trust dozens of individual editors every day, some of whom we even know.
Here’s the biggest statistic for me: 42% of Millennials say they regularly post or share news content to Facebook. It ranges between 30 to 50% for other social networks. We don’t stay quiet about the news. A single share can reach hundreds of others, so we spread news, we comment on it, and we discuss it. When you’re watching CNN, you shut up and watch, and you do it in the privacy of your own home. If you discuss it, you do it with like-minded people who live under the same roof. You’re not offered a variety of perspectives.
When you read news online, you share it and you discuss it with others. You argue. You learn. Only 11% of Millennial Facebook users don’t comment on or share news stories.
What does this all mean? Millennials don’t rely on single sources. We’re willing to read the news, not just watch it. We’re comfortable doing our own research, relying on social networks, and using both alternative and mainstream sources to find the news. We don’t just read the opinions that agree with us. Three-quarters of us actively seek out multiple sides to a story. We want to discuss news, not just be told what to think. We want to be exposed to the opinions of others and are willing to have our own opinions changed.
We get a bad rap for the internet trolls among us, but look at any commentary thread and you’ll see the trolls come from every generation. The truth is this: we’re a generation that was raised to have open minds, to discuss and learn, and not view differences of opinion as personal challenges. If someone changes our mind – good, we know more now. So tell me now that we don’t read, that we’re oblivious, that we don’t care. The truth is, we’re far ahead of other generations when it comes to staying informed.
Do you feel Millennials are blamed for too much? Do you know someone older whose opinion this article can change?