I’ve been blessed and cursed with a baby face, and I know I will forever be carded.
It’s a good thing when I’m on a story and I need to blend in. It was an asset when I had to stalk American Idol cult hero William Hung on UC-Berkeley’s campus, or talk to kids in the mall about marijuana use going up.
But on the other hand, when I interview people in power, first question they ask is, “How long have you worked in journalism?” which is code for figuring out my age.
Unlike my friend who is a cop, I’m honest about my age – 26. He also has a baby face, but in order to gain respect, he lies, saying he’s in his 30s and is a single parent of a baby daughter.
But for me, I won’t lie about my age or my youth. I believe in my work speaking for itself.
Being young is a blessing. Just ask plastic surgeons. Celebrities spend millions on surgery to look young, and advertisers spend billions on trying to tap into the young.
The younger generation is richer, more media and tech savvy than ever before. They are our future leaders and readers. Generation Y (those born in 1978 to 1998) total more than 70 million. They earn $211 billion and spend $172 billion annually, according to the Harris Interactive Poll.
But the bulk of this population is missing in newspaper coverage. They’ll cover the babies with their mothers, then a gap, followed by the working population. For example, stories on insurance or buying homes will target families, forgetting the single population struggling to cover rent as well as the students whose class makeup are changed drastically when property values go down.
When Aaliyah died, my newspaper failed to express the magnitude of her death. Around that time, I was in Singapore working on a fellowship with 450 college and grad students from all over the world. The fellowship was on health and economics, but the only thing we talked about was Aaliyah.
When she was missing from the newspaper, I realized that no wonder younger people aren’t reading the newspaper. We aren’t being covered. Just like any community, when they are not deeply covered or simply forgotten, it gives them no incentive to read the newspaper.
If a newspaper is going to survive, it must listen to this population of future readers.
Instead of seeing being young as a disadvantage and liability, know that you are one of the few chosen to represent your community. In a sea of wannabe reporters, being young gives you an edge. You are the future target audience. You know what issues are important, what news is going down and how your generation feels about it.
When I was working at the Los Angeles Times as the youngest in their features department, they held a meeting on what stories should make up the section. A topic that came up was cruising, but while the rest of the staff could only guess what that might be like, I had just gone the night before.
Later, when I was working on a news story for the San Jose Mercury News, I noticed a fax that came through saying that Davey D was laid off, and how fans were protesting.
Source Magazine, considered the bible in hip-hop, named Davey D No. 2 in hip-hop behind media mogul Russell Simmons. The radio DJ was on the forefront of hip-hop journalism, and I remembered listening to him since high school. But because nobody else knew who he was, I pushed to cover it. When our features section saw my coverage, they wanted me to profile him.
Then the Mercury News asked him to write columns for the paper. Now when he’s asked to be on television, or asked to be a guest on a panel or to emcee a hip-hop event, he reps the Mercury News, giving us street cred.
As younger journalists, you know about the next new thing. You just might be listening to it, doing it or wearing it.
Now, you must write about it.
Marian Liu is the pop music writer for the San Jose Mercury News. In the past she has also covered medical issues for the Detroit Free Press, fashion for the Los Angeles Times, and news for the Oakland Tribune. In her free time, the UC-Berkeley graduate designs jewelry, plays videogames, snowboards and watches anime. Her work blog marianbackstage.blogspot.com documents her chaotic daily schedule.