“Youth Media” = Fail.

I was recently involved in a project called, at various stages, Election Wire (sorry, #ElectionWIRE) , Youthscape, #ElectionWIRE on Youthscape, Election Tracker, Electionvibetrackerscape@hipcoolplacefortrendyteens, and “this stupid project”.

It was, as is so often the case with non-profit work, a bit of a farce. Every one involved was talented and enthusiastic, but no one in charge was thoughtful enough (they of course all had other demands on their time, as did the reporters), or in charge enough, for the project to really have been what it should (could) have. Dont get me wrong, we clocked up over 200,000 views, and more importantly some of the videos were really good. There was however, to say the least, big room for improvement.

One thing that really struck me as misguided though was a constant tendency to brand the channel “Youth Media”. The idea was to go for viewers between 16-30. In the end however, a majority of viewers was over 35, with the 55-64 age bracket doing almost as well as the 18-24’s. Not much point typing any more, here are the stats laid bare:

Youth Media - watched primarily by middle aged men.

Youth Media - watched primarily by middle aged men.

Have other people working in “Youth Media” found they have this problem?

I think consiously branding it “for young people” immediately gives it, to younger noses at least, the stink of “this is what the baby boomer’s think you should be watching”. My instincts tell me that young people don’t call each other young people, and their interests are more diverse, not less, than the rest of the general population.

It’s a bit like if I tried to hit on a girl by telling her how much I want to fuck her. The trick – the hard but important bit – is convincing her she wants to fuck me too.

Older people get suckered into watching it expecting to give them insight into what young people are interested in, which it is patently not. Every one looses.


About Austin G. Mackell

I am a freelance journalist who has worked for a variety of corporate and community outlets from my hometown of Sydney and from the Middle East, including from Lebanon during Israels 2006 invasion and from Iran during the tumultuous presidential elections there in 2009. I have recently moved to Cairo to watch the revolutions in Arab world unfold.
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4 Responses to “Youth Media” = Fail.

  1. Gavin Heaton says:

    As a member of the Vibewire board and as someone who was an enthusiastic supporter of electionWIRE, I’m surprised to hear of your disappointment with the project.

    The electionWIRE team’s objective was to create a platform that allowed you (and others) to report on the election in your own way. This supports Vibewire’s overall objective to provide opportunities for “younger Australians to express themselves on the issues … that matter to them”.

    Two hundred thousand views is not insignificant. And the fact that the audience demographics skew older indicates (to me at least) that the goals of Vibewire were fulfilled. electionWIRE found an audience, showcased the skills of young reporters and helped many of them begin the process of moving into a professional career.

    Sure there was room for improvement. Early reportage was patchy in some cases, but improved every single week.

    As one of the reporters, you were able to choose what you covered and how you covered it. Were you targeting your stories to young people or were you aiming for a wider audience? Did you work to create stories that would engage younger Australians? Did you support your fellow reporters to do the same?

    One of the great successes of electionWIRE was the diversity of coverage and perspective – something sorely lacking in much of the election coverage. It may not have been perfect, but it was far from the failure that you suggest.

    • Dear Gavin,

      First of all I never meant to imply 200, 000 views is insignificant, in fact i meant the opposite (I think the 2 daily hits my blog gets matter), and I did say in my blog we did some good work.

      Clearly we weren’t on the same page, though. I thought the intention was to report by young people, but also for young people (the channel is called “youthscape” and says , to an implied young audience, the election reported your way). As such I remember raising my concerns about the “youth media” branding, which I have seen turn young people off faster than talking bout their parents genitals, early on and being batted away.

      I also disagree that we were free to report our way entirely. The editors still had expectations of us. Not that I think that is a bad thing, I think if you try and put too much “diversity” on one site you end up with that site trying to be the whole Internet in one place, and failing. Clearly the channel developed, in the first week or so, a “smart-casual” style to the videos, with some comical exceptions – beyond this, it is the channels name and design that I feel was the worst culprit, rather than the content.

      That’s probably a sub-conscious post-facto rationalisation, though, as I’ve checked the demographics of the videos I worked on the channel, and they have the same demographic spread. The age spread bothers me, I wasn’t aiming for that audience when i shot my pieces, so obviously I’m not as good at knowing what my intended audience wants as I should be. In any case, though, I’m very happy to be appreciated by an older audience. The fact my videos were so much more popular with men disturbs me slightly though and makes me wonder what I’m missing. Or are men just bigger consumers of this type of stuff? Any how… You say the aim was to inform older Australian’s about the perspectives of young people, I would have made very different videos, but who knows, maybe then they would have been popular with the 80+’s.

      In any case, I didn’t mean to call the whole project a failure. I just meant that the “youth media” branding – particularly using the word “youth” or phrase “for young people”, makes it sound like an health program the government wants to get you on. I would like to bet this approach fails everywhere in regards to reaching young people.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  2. Gavin Heaton says:

    I agree there is an issue around the term “youth” – it was something we raised early in our planning discussions. But it’s a challenge. Like you I tend to think that anything assigned the term “youth” is a turn off – or limits its appeal. For example, Vibewire’s official name is “Vibewire Youth Inc” which is also problematic.

    Triple J similarly is billed as “Australia’s national youth network on radio, tv and online”.

    It’s not ideal but I don’t have a ready alternative.

    • this was exactly my concern…. and i also raised it early in meetings with the editors and other reporters… but it seemed like the dye had been cast… i just thought i would put this up there for anyone else going through the same thought process… i think we can safely say they should steer clear of it… i we had just been #ElectionWIRE with out the “on youthscape” bit would have not only avoided the problem but kept the name shorter… i don’t understand why we used both… also the whole “your future. reported your way.” thing was a little obvious… couldn’t we just have been “#ElectionWIRE, Election coverage with a difference” a slogan our team ended up using in our intro video was “We take the issues seriously, not ourselves.” something like that could have been the branding… and it would have i think appealed more to youth.

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