For the kids, by the kids!

How do you make news appeal to teenagers? How do you appeal to such a diverse demographic as teenagers? Let them define their own interests…

How do you appeal to teenagers as a demographic? There are millions of 13-19 year old teens in this country alone, with different and diverse backgrounds, each struggling to assert their individuality and identity in a world which, as the adults know, is in something of a mess. In some ways, education shields these children from the realities of adult life; why try in school if you know there are no jobs, no money, no prospects? Some youngsters go to after-school clubs, learn more, then leave to do their homework. Others take to the streets with their mates, smoking cigarettes (or something stronger), completely alienated from supposedly ‘normal’ society.

The mainstream news is a wasteland of uncertainty at home and war abroad, produced and presented by an old guard, the agenda set by big business and finance. It is certainly not a model to follow for the benefit of the United Kingdom’s young adults. Entertainment and celebrity status holds increasing sway on the news agenda also, creating a culture where reality is subservient to exclusivity and privilege.

Kids are smart, they should set the agenda for themselves; not only would this promote their own education and growth, it would at least represent the wants and needs of a generation better than a bunch of cynical journalism lifers with intimidating suits and shiny shoes. This would give the broadcast a diversity of content that mainstream media media does not embrace. Also, it would provide a useful barometer of the stories and issues that matter to young people, rather than the news telling them what they should care about. Media can be influential to political discourse, so this structure could possibly enable young people to influence the world they live in, at the very least the sentiment could be encouraging.

Perhaps a polling or voting system online would be the best way to ensure that those watching on TV were interested and involved. Online content is crucial to encouraging teenagers to embrace the televisual broadcast. A considerable number in the 13-19 age range spend more time on their mobile phones than they do in front of the TV, as YouTube and other such sites enable people to set their own viewing schedule and content. It is essential that the TV broadcast is subsequently visible and available online in order to reach as wide an audience as possible.

Participation is key: Most if not all teenagers record video on their mobile phones; these kids are already the citizen journalists of the future, recording their friends’ mucking around at the weekends. Using the website again, it would be an opportunity to find youngsters who wanted to put their time & effort into something meaningful, or give people in their lives the opportunity to elect someone they know who is either talented or has potential and is in need of a positive creative outlet.

Logistically speaking, having a group of teenagers running a media service is downright irresponsible; they can set the news agenda and content, but it is up to a crack team of ten journalists, well-versed in the arts of convergence and multi-media, to help enhance and hone the skills of the young people. However, there is something to be said for retaining the energy of youth in the newsroom, a chaotic, kinetic place at the best of times. Specialists in camera operation, editing and sound should definitely be employed, as well as an internet-savvy social media guru. Online visibility is key, and the channel and website must have a strong presence in areas of the internet that young people inhabit. These considerations are moving into the sphere of advertising and publicity, but if young people aren’t interested in finding news anymore, it is necessary to seek them out, and offer something appealing.

The ten staff should have a multiplicity of convergent skills, and be comfortable working alongside, and sometimes taking orders from, teenagers. A news agenda decided by young people surely means a diversity of stories, angled ‘glocally’ to appeal to the nation, rather than the limitations of geography. Media in this environment should cultivate and encourage creative approaches to stories, not necessarily a presenter or anchor introducing and reducing everything. Controversial perhaps, but ‘professional’ norms of behaviour should be abandoned, allowing the make-up and function of the newsroom to evolve and grow, finding the processes which suit a youth-oriented environment and audience.

Creating a professional design and broadcast standard is crucial to attracting attention and prolonged success. Aesthetic cannot be underestimated when trying to attract a young audience with a short attention span. The most important component is making something accessible and relevant to young people, and by creating a rigid structure and presenting it to a diverse demographic in constant flux, the chances of having a lasting positive impact are futile.

Maybe it won’t run smoothly, but mistakes on TV can make for amusing viewing; maybe it won’t meet the professional standards of news tailored for adults, but that seems to be a turn off for young people anyway. It won’t preach or manipulate, dictate or disregard, because it’s  FOR THE KIDS, BY THE KIDS!

Image: Wikimedia Commons

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