by Jalen Nash
In an era marked by attacks on media, a decline in local newspaper circulation, and the transition into the digital age, student journalists stand at a crucial intersection.
While older generations meet the future with anxiety, student journalists are uniquely qualified to navigate the evolving environment. Growing alongside the polarization and social media platforms that define our era, "journalism needs the voice of young adults," says Alexis Alex, co-founder of the rising news platform, the Executive Tea.
Founded in 2016, by herself and Kayla Pasacreta, the platform was a response to the current political news climate. Hearing the polarized rhetoric and witnessing mass misinformation, the website was created "to give a voice to young people of color and their perspective on politics," says Alex.
Failures of contemporary news media have led to a widely divided society. The extreme degree of this separation, mainly along political lines, is of significant concern. A study conducted by the Pew Research Center found those who identified as liberals or conservatives separated themselves into exclusive information bubbles. Explaining these trends, Gene Policinski, president of Freedom Forum Institute, says, "If you go up from the colonial days until contemporary times, we've always had partisan views in media. But today we live in a more polarized society, so when the audience moves, the news networks tend to move with them."
The rise of digital, social media-based news reporting contributes to this challenge. Enabling anyone to become a journalist, in 140-characters or less, social networks have granted anyone the ability to share information with massive audiences. The transition has resulted in "social media reporters" and incentivized news outlets to cater content towards more views instead of higher quality. These trends signal a significant shift in news media. Colliding with the boom of digital and social media platforms, the transition has led many to call for news media reform.
"We're in a time where millennials are trying to have a bigger voice in our political climate," states Pasacreta. "Utilizing peer contributions and social media, the Executive Tea successfully bridges the gap between modern politics and our generation," says, Cydney Lee, editorial director of Renegade Magazine, and fan of the website. “Platforms like these suggest that reform will be ushered in by the next generation of journalists."
Compelling student journalism is essential, agrees Policinski, whose institute, funds the Newseum in Washington DC and named 2019, The Year of the Student Journalist.
"They'll be a generation marked more complete reporting, a louder voice for minority communities and finding more effective ways to monetize news gathering and reporting," he continues. As the news media industry transitions, "student journalists will assert themselves as the safe keepers of tomorrow," says Sean Dorcellus, a student who currently reports for Syracuse University News.
"Student journalism is the grooming process of professional journalism," he continues. In terms of development, "it's a good tool for students to learn on the fly, to innovate and to create content without the pressures of the industry," agrees Bobby Manning, a student who currently reports for syracuse.com and CLNS Media.
Currently learning the tools of traditional journalism, he says growing up with the modern news media has shaped the way many rising reporters apply knowledge to craft. With the separation between media sources at an all-time high, and average attention spans at an all-time low, "journalists themselves have become a topic," says Dorcellus. This has caused heightened demand for transparency, continues Manning, who says, "media members have to go out there and make themselves a person and connect with their fan base. You got to be transparent in the next generation."
With such an increased value on transparency, social media has affected how journalists use, create and share content.
Many news sources, including the Executive Tea, have invested in digital content shared on platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube. Seeing this move firsthand, Stacy Fernandez, a former feature editor of the Daily Orange, thinks the use of social media will elevate journalism. On the topic, she says, "social media plays a big role in helping the media realize what is important to people. It really informs the stories we are telling and gives access to different communities."
Echoing this sentiment, Alex stated, "we created the Executive Tea because we felt that the voices of young people of color were missing from the political conversation. People needed to be informed, and social media has allowed us to get that engagement."
Young journalists approach the hazards of polarized reporting from a fresh perspective. While information bubbles have grown more divided, reporting has become more accessible and attuned to represent the sentiments of marginalized communities.
Kemet High, a writer with work featured in Complex, Revolt, DJBooth, and The Fader, praises the evolution, saying, "now you can cater to so many different people in so many different markets, which works in favor of niche publications and audiences." Pasacreta agrees, saying, "not only does it increase accountability, but it exposes younger people to topics they may not have otherwise known about."
"For a long time, the old-school way of doing journalism was unbiased and impartial. But now, this new generation uses our identities to inform our reporting," says Fernandez.
Integrating their personal identity into their reporting, many aspiring journalists derive truth from authentic storytelling, rather than bystander reporting. This paradigm shift stands to redefine long-standing principles.
Led by innovators, our generation wishes to redefine journalism. "Mainstream news gets cycled into the concerns of older generations, while younger issues are focused on the future. Our generation is focused on truth, representation, how we can sustain, and how we can build a better society," says Jones.
"It takes a lot of courage to be a journalist at a time like this," says Pasacreta. Growing up in this media environment has given the creators of the Executive Tea, and many other rising student journalists, the courage and perspective to approach the future with optimism.
While many fear the death of journalism, by challenging taboos and the traditional pillars of reporting, the craft will remain alive and well in the hands of this generation of student reporters.