Millennials are ready to run things

“We were told we weren’t ready, we didn’t have enough experience, we didn’t have the right experience, we weren’t a good culture fit. or we were too radical. And then 2020 happened.”

You love to blame a millennial. We spend too much on fancy toast, we’re up to our eyeballs in debt, and we killed cable TV. (R.I.P.) But it’s time to reevaluate your outlook and attitude toward this generation — we’re next in line to lead all the newsrooms (or however many are left).

The oldest millennials — a charmed 3,629,238 of us were born in the United States in 1981 — are celebrating our 40th birthdays in 2021. We’re parents, step-parents, homeowners, renters, career-oriented, gig workers, mostly digital natives, still on Facebook for some reason, and totally lurking on TikTok.

So here’s our prediction: Despite many obstacles, millennials are ready to lead newsrooms — and we’re going to do it our own way.

For years, the imposter syndrome we felt was underscored — as women, as journalists of color, and as digital natives. We were told we weren’t ready, we didn’t have enough experience, we didn’t have the right experience, we weren’t a good culture fit. or we were too radical.

And then 2020 happened. A number of us middle-management, mid-career, extremely online, Slack-loving newsroom leaders saw and seized the opportunity to help entire news organizations figure out how to keep doing journalism and serve our audiences, while the biggest event of our lives played out around us. Media didn’t stop; in fact, much of it was amazing. Platforms chugged on, local TV and radio newscasts persisted, valuable and lifesaving information was collected and relayed.

So we’ll emerge from 2020 having navigated teams, strategies, and newsrooms through an unprecedented election year on top of a global pandemic that infected and upended every aspect of our lives — all from the discomfort of our homes and tiny squares of our computers.

But as awful as this has been, some of the ways we’ve been able to expedite the adoption of more digital workflows, communication channels, and tools have been pretty encouraging to see.

Let’s face it, unless you’re working at a media company that started out digital-first, most newsrooms have had a hard time with digital culture change. Newsrooms that started and stayed behind the digital curve often over-corrected, becoming obsessed with what’s next (pivot to video, anyone?) leaving journalism’s true purpose — to inform the audience and shed light on forgotten truths — in the dust.

Changing of the guard

With a number of retirements in the uppermost echelons of journalism coming in 2021, the future of many legacy newsrooms, and perhaps the craft itself, is uncertain — and wide open.

On top of that, those coming up in journalism right now are not necessarily millennials, but Gen Z. They’re the ones who are leading the reckoning for inclusive newsrooms and are often the new union shop leaders. They, along with their allies, are demanding better, more representative leadership that truly understands digital and audience — not the kind of leaders who just spout buzzwords but have never practiced the concepts.

We can’t stop thinking about this section from Ben Smith’s New York Times media column:

[Outgoing Los Angeles Times executive editor Norman] Pearlstine, the only one talking openly of his departure, told me that the new “metrics for success might be different as well — issues such as inclusiveness, such as being anti-racist, such as really commanding some new platform, be it podcasts or video or newsletters, in addition to having journalistic credentials.”

And, he said, the old top-down newsroom management is a thing of the past. “Consent of the governed is something you have to take pretty seriously,” he said.

Whether Pearlstine said all this with enthusiastic support or resigned disdain (what was his tone, Ben??), we’re here for it — literally.

Inclusivity and anti-racism are about the product of journalism as much as it is about the newsroom. True inclusion and representation are long-needed and overdue, and power-sharing with audiences is something misfits have been pushing for years.

While we’ve been waiting to take on this mantle, some of us fear we may be set up for failure. To our credit, though, our lived experience and propensity for experimentation help us. Those of us who’ve thrived in the middle — and again, as women and/or JOCs and/or digital natives — have already created change, albeit some of it incremental. Our ideas have helped to improve hiring practices, reevaluate our pipelines, place a critical lens on our sources, and decenter whiteness in our stories, just to name a few.

There’s no one thing that will save journalism but ourselves. This is the year we need to hit reset. Stop looking ahead and take stock of what we’ve got. We need to look at who we have and (hopefully) invest in bringing back or supporting a lost generation of journalists.

So come at us, 2021 — and not with your blame, but with your challenges and opportunities.

P.S. We’re still forecasted to spend most of the year surviving a pandemic so as ever: Take 👏 Breaks 👏.

Julia B. Chan is managing editor of digital at KQED in San Francisco. Kim Bui is director of audience innovation at the Arizona Republic.

You love to blame a millennial. We spend too much on fancy toast, we’re up to our eyeballs in debt, and we killed cable TV. (R.I.P.) But it’s time to reevaluate your outlook and attitude toward this generation — we’re next in line to lead all the newsrooms (or however many are left).

The oldest millennials — a charmed 3,629,238 of us were born in the United States in 1981 — are celebrating our 40th birthdays in 2021. We’re parents, step-parents, homeowners, renters, career-oriented, gig workers, mostly digital natives, still on Facebook for some reason, and totally lurking on TikTok.

So here’s our prediction: Despite many obstacles, millennials are ready to lead newsrooms — and we’re going to do it our own way.

For years, the imposter syndrome we felt was underscored — as women, as journalists of color, and as digital natives. We were told we weren’t ready, we didn’t have enough experience, we didn’t have the right experience, we weren’t a good culture fit. or we were too radical.

And then 2020 happened. A number of us middle-management, mid-career, extremely online, Slack-loving newsroom leaders saw and seized the opportunity to help entire news organizations figure out how to keep doing journalism and serve our audiences, while the biggest event of our lives played out around us. Media didn’t stop; in fact, much of it was amazing. Platforms chugged on, local TV and radio newscasts persisted, valuable and lifesaving information was collected and relayed.

So we’ll emerge from 2020 having navigated teams, strategies, and newsrooms through an unprecedented election year on top of a global pandemic that infected and upended every aspect of our lives — all from the discomfort of our homes and tiny squares of our computers.

But as awful as this has been, some of the ways we’ve been able to expedite the adoption of more digital workflows, communication channels, and tools have been pretty encouraging to see.

Let’s face it, unless you’re working at a media company that started out digital-first, most newsrooms have had a hard time with digital culture change. Newsrooms that started and stayed behind the digital curve often over-corrected, becoming obsessed with what’s next (pivot to video, anyone?) leaving journalism’s true purpose — to inform the audience and shed light on forgotten truths — in the dust.

Changing of the guard

With a number of retirements in the uppermost echelons of journalism coming in 2021, the future of many legacy newsrooms, and perhaps the craft itself, is uncertain — and wide open.

On top of that, those coming up in journalism right now are not necessarily millennials, but Gen Z. They’re the ones who are leading the reckoning for inclusive newsrooms and are often the new union shop leaders. They, along with their allies, are demanding better, more representative leadership that truly understands digital and audience — not the kind of leaders who just spout buzzwords but have never practiced the concepts.

We can’t stop thinking about this section from Ben Smith’s New York Times media column:

[Outgoing Los Angeles Times executive editor Norman] Pearlstine, the only one talking openly of his departure, told me that the new “metrics for success might be different as well — issues such as inclusiveness, such as being anti-racist, such as really commanding some new platform, be it podcasts or video or newsletters, in addition to having journalistic credentials.”

And, he said, the old top-down newsroom management is a thing of the past. “Consent of the governed is something you have to take pretty seriously,” he said.

Whether Pearlstine said all this with enthusiastic support or resigned disdain (what was his tone, Ben??), we’re here for it — literally.

Inclusivity and anti-racism are about the product of journalism as much as it is about the newsroom. True inclusion and representation are long-needed and overdue, and power-sharing with audiences is something misfits have been pushing for years.

While we’ve been waiting to take on this mantle, some of us fear we may be set up for failure. To our credit, though, our lived experience and propensity for experimentation help us. Those of us who’ve thrived in the middle — and again, as women and/or JOCs and/or digital natives — have already created change, albeit some of it incremental. Our ideas have helped to improve hiring practices, reevaluate our pipelines, place a critical lens on our sources, and decenter whiteness in our stories, just to name a few.

There’s no one thing that will save journalism but ourselves. This is the year we need to hit reset. Stop looking ahead and take stock of what we’ve got. We need to look at who we have and (hopefully) invest in bringing back or supporting a lost generation of journalists.

So come at us, 2021 — and not with your blame, but with your challenges and opportunities.

P.S. We’re still forecasted to spend most of the year surviving a pandemic so as ever: Take 👏 Breaks 👏.

Julia B. Chan is managing editor of digital at KQED in San Francisco. Kim Bui is director of audience innovation at the Arizona Republic.

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