More than any time in human history, young people have more tools at their avail to consume – and create – information on the issues that are most relevant to them. So to figure out exactly what MTV’s approach would be to truly engage young people aged 18-30 during this Presidential election cycle in this new, Wild West era of self-publishing and self-organization, we first had to listen to what young people themselves said they wanted.
The results were simultaneously disheartening and hopeful, in the way only young people can express themselves about their future. The MTV/CBS News/New York Times Poll revealed that younger Americans have a bleak view about their own future and the direction the country is heading: 70 percent said the country was on the wrong track, while 48 percent said they feared that their generation would be worse off than their parents’. But the survey also found that this generation knows their power: 77 percent said they thought their votes would have a great bearing on who became the next president.
By any measure, the poll suggests that young Americans are anything but apathetic about the Presidential election. Fifty-eight percent said they were paying attention to the campaign. By contrast, at this point in the 2004 presidential campaign, only 35 percent of 18-to-29-year-olds said they were paying a lot or some attention to the campaign. And these projected 2008 numbers followed actual record youth voter turnout: In 2006, 10 million 18-29 year-olds voted than in 2002 midterms (2 MM+ increase – largest youth turnout in at least 20 years in congressional elections.)
So clearly young people are ready to participate because they know how important the stakes are. Elections are no longer an abstract concept. Whatever their position on the decisions of the current Administration over the last seven years, it has become crystal clear to young people that who is elected as President matters and has consequences.
But the message we heard over and over and over from young people was resounding, and that was that: None of the candidates are speaking to the national and local issues they care about most; nor are they speaking in a language nor from a youth perspective that reflects the realities of being a young person in today’s world; nor are the candidates or major news media outlets communicating with them on the bevy of mobile devices that they use every single day. What to do.
Well, why not create an ARMY of journalists, 51 of them in fact – one in each state and in DC, who would do just that; who would be responsible for reporting on the issues of importance to young people within that respective state. An impassioned, investigative, and incredible cadre of journalists that will break stories that are not being covered by the mainstream media at all, or that will cover mainstream stories from a youth perspective. AND they will cover stories that will be accessible on mobile devices, online, on-air – indeed, on every media platform that young people are already using.
So that’s what we’ve been doing. MTV’s Choose or Lose has spent the last few months recruiting a powerful array of young journalists who, when final selections are completed in about a month, will be undergoing training and other development to form the nucleus of our 2008 election coverage. We are tremendously excited at the stories they will uncover, and most importantly, at informing and hopefully unleashing other young people to realize they have the power to tell their stories as well.
This will be a grand experiment of how to stimulate young people to use the new media tools available to actually achieve a more participatory democracy.
We’re ready for an exciting year.