Why do media representations of youth matter?

Essay by sukhvalhallaUniversity, Bachelor'sC, August 2008

download word file, 5 pages 0.0

The mass media is looked upon by society as a beacon of truth and a conveyor of information. Yet journalistic integrity often takes a backseat to the bottom line, where 'newsworthiness' is needed to sell news pieces. But while media companies are often accused of biased reporting, they are rarely castigated for it. A favourite punching bag for the media companies are the youth, which seems odd seeing as how the youth are more often than not the most important consumer groups. The paradox is that while the young spend much of their time using the media and media technologies, it is these same media's which vilify them on a regular basis.

The mass media's representation of youth is largely focused on deviance and rebellion, traits that are most commonly associated with young people. But the media provides little or no empirical evidence to suggest that the young are more predisposed to anti-social behaviour as opposed to any other existing demographic.

In a study conducted in the UK, researchers found that the media used dubious presentation techniques to exaggerate a view that the young were more likely to be involved in violent crime (Wayne et al, 2008). The researchers considered 286 news stories in which young people were the main focus, and an astonishing 47% of these related to crimes committed by young people (with 72% concerning violent crime). Whilst one could adopt an ignorant and naïve view and contend that crime belongs in the arena of youth, the statistics fail to correlate this and similar notions of youth notoriety and instead point to the mass media as a major contributor to these notions.

It was noted by Schlesinger and Tumber that while "violence against the person constituted 3.62% of all notifiable offences reported by the police… such criminal acts comprised… 45.9% (of crime-related items) in the popular press" (1994, p.185). These 'panics', as noted by Kirsten Drotner (1992), are entwined with the modernisation of society and have much to do with the current information age. As new media's and technologies arise, society finds a need to set moral boundaries which are absent within these new technologies. For example, the popular console-game, "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas" stirred much controversy over the alleged sexual content hidden within the game, as well as the usual gratuitous violence that the series had become known for, prompting US Presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton to urge federal regulators to investigate the game's content (Hernandez, 2005). Opponents of the game have been quick to blame the social problems plaguing today's youth on games like these, though experts maintain that there remains no scientific proof for such an accusation ('Grand Theft Auto Comes Under Fire', BBC News UK, 4 May 2004). Nevertheless, the young are singled out as a cause of social problems due to their natural fondness and exposure to these new technologies (Drotner, 1992).

As a member of the 'youth' demographic myself, I have seen first-hand how the media's exaggeration of social issues can affect me and my peers. In this post-September 11th world, the media has been quick to stereotype the image of the antagonists in that event. Being of North Indian descent, I am often confused with being of Middle Eastern origin (among other things) and as such, am often subjected to 'random searches' at airports. Whilst I understand the need for enhanced security and accept it, I do take offence to the fact that I am singled out simply for being young, able and fitting a stereotypical image that has been fuelled by the media's sometimes irresponsible inflation of the issues. To further prove this point, I remember a time when I was 15 and with long hair. I was sitting at a café in my home country, when some police officers questioned our motives for being out and about at that time (11 o'clock at night), and subjected me and my companions to a 'random' search and drug test. We later discovered that we were singled out merely because we had long hair and were situated near a club which had a reputation for recreational drug use. It is clear that the images portrayed by the media led to snap judgements about me based on my image alone, thus forcing me to submit myself to searches so as to alleviate any social fears.

In the UK report mentioned above, it was noted that almost half (47%) of the news featured around the young involved criminal acts (Wayne et al 2008, p.78). In contrast, only 26% of the stories within the sample focused on the achievements of young people. What is particularly alarming is that much of the focus here was given to sporting and entertainment achievements, and naturally focused on young celebrities (such as young football stars). When we analyse those stories that are focused on other areas (such as being good citizens), that percentage drops to a mere 1% (ibid. p.79). The attention paid to youth as social nuisances instead of agents of social good is perhaps one of the most infuriating issues concerning the youth today. To combat this disadvantaged position, many youths are embracing new technologies and using the Internet to have their voices heard. In my home country of Singapore, one of the most popular websites is that of a local blogger who goes by the handle 'Xiaxue' (http://xiaxue.blogspot.com/). While her views are certainly not representative of young people in general, her status as a public personality has prompted other youths to get online and voice their own opinions. Proof of this can be seen in the daily newspaper 'Today', where another popular blogger 'Mr Brown' has a weekly column where he tackles current events by offering up the opinions of local bloggers, whose blogs he tirelessly sifts through every day.

And perhaps therein lies the solution. Media companies need to sell newspapers, and sensationalism and stereotyping the youth and painting them in a bad light enables them to do just that. The elements which make a story 'newsworthy' often runs counter to social responsibility. But media professionals need to take note of this distasteful trend plaguing their profession and take into consideration the views of the young when reporting on matters that concern the young, so that they may uphold their journalistic integrity and bring balance into their reporting.

Word Count: 1,053 words Bibliography: Drotner, K 1992, 'Modernity and Media Panics', in Skovmand, M & Schrøder, K C (eds.), Media Cultures: Reappraising Transnational Media, Routledge, London.

Hernandez, R 2005, 'Clinton Urges Inquiry Into Hidden Sex in Grand Theft Auto Game', The New York Times, 14 July, viewed 28 March 2008, http://www.nytimes.com.

Schlesinger, P and Tumber, H 1994, Reporting Crime: The Media Politics of Criminal Justice, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Wayne, M, Henderson, L, Murray, C and Petley, J 2008, 'Television News and the Symbolic Criminalisation of Young People', in Journalism Studies, viewed 28 March 2008, http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/title~content=t713393939.