According to Best (2007, p. 5), media all over the world carry immense powers in influencing how agendas are set in the society. As such, the media has segmented societies into groups to serve special interests that are unique to such groups. Some of these groups include the women, youth, business sector, fashion, entertainment, and politics among others. The segmentation of the society, in which media serves, can best be explained in terms of commercial interest that media has. This has led to misrepresentation, and even underrepresentation of some of the segments, sometimes, because of the stereotypes and myths about that segment.
Davey (2011, p. 3) observes that among the segment that is not wholly represented in media are the youth. Noticeably, he argues that the youth have little or no influence in the way mainstream media operate in reporting and laying the issues that concern them. This is because the youth largely lack economic, political, and social powers to influence or even participate in the reporting about what happens to them. An exception is when the reported issue serves the interests of the media, most of which are stereotypical and prejudicial and, thus, fails to serve the youth. Another point of departure between the mainstream media and the youth has been the continued representation of the youth as apathetic, criminal, sexually pervaded, and always inclined towards drug abuse. Moreover, Herbert (2001, p. 10) argues that the image of the youth has largely been tainted by the media.
This write up therefore discusses and compares how youths are represented in the mainstream media and the alternative media channels that are mostly under the management of the youth themselves.
Youth Representation in the Mainstream Media
According to Herbert (2001, p. 8), coverage of youth in mainstream media is biased. He notes that reports about the youth are always limited and negative. On many occasions, youth affairs are totally missing from the reports in mainstream media. In essence, information about the youth in these media is low, negative and false. He argues that this is because mainstream media are mainly dominated with an adult audience that has formed stereotypes and myths. As the main customers of the information, the audience defines what the media reports. Thus, the media on their part tend to report information about the youth in line with what will be appealing to their audience.
Similarly, Hoechsmann and Poyntz (2012, p. 4) note that the representation of the youth in mainstream media follows the stereotypes and myths that have been formed over time. This jeopardizes the chances of the youth to redeem their image in the public eye, as they are powerless. They are, thus, seen as simpletons without an issue worth addressing. In addition, stereotyping in mainstream media is used by those in power to justify the image of the youth as useless and carry on the social prejudice and inequality against the youth. Brown (2012, p. 3) observes that it is not unusual for youth to be used in selective themes by mainstream media, which have become synonymous with the youth agenda.
In particular, Brown (2012, p. 3) states that the mainstream media represent the youth through non-threatening images and a selective range of themes. For example, young people are portrayed as objects of suffering or sorrow, as sporting stars, or as absurdly glamorous high-profile personalities, whose shallow-mindedness mitigates any possible threat, posed by their youth, beauty or wealth. It is not unusual to discover that most magazines directed towards the youth will address topics on fashion, appearance, health, sex, diet or relationships. Johnson and Ensslin (2007, p. 11) observe that the self-consciousness approach by the mainstream media does not embrace an image of the youth as a special interest group that is isolated from the rest of society.
Lewis (2006, p. 20) notes that communication between the youth and the reporters in the mainstream media is disintegrated. The youth are not involved in the reports about them. This lack of involvement in reporting about the youth contributes to the wrong information being given to the society. He argues that because the youth are not in positions to commend on information about them, mainstream media end up disseminating information that is one sided to the public. Lewis (2006, p. 21) indicates that these so called authoritative sources have been used time and again to dismiss the youth, that fact that jeopardizes the effort of the youth to redeem themselves. He notes that it is a vicious circle that the youth are caught up, which leaves them powerless.
Additionally, Nakkula et al. (2010, p. 7) argue that a misrepresentation of the youth in mainstream media has been caused by the failure of the media to establish problems, affecting the youth. For instance, economic hardships in Australia have affected the youth and most of them are now living in poverty. According to Brown (2012, p. 4), irrespective of the fact that poverty is the major cause of the social evils that are always associated with the youth, the mainstream media in sensitizing the public about how social evils are related to youth crime.
Similarly, some of the crimes, committed by adult people, have gone without reporting and if they are reported they are attributed to the youth, rather than the adult. For instance, Brown (2012, p. 3) observes that it is not uncommon for mainstream media to report on a pregnancy case involving a teenager and a grown up person in terms of youth sexual expediency.
Contrary to the reports by mainstream media, Nichols and Good (2004, p. 9) argue that the youth is a composite group that has issues that are worthy reporting. However, the representation has been overshadowed by the ideologies and objectives that define mainstream existence. For instance, Nichols and Good (2004, p. 9) note that most mainstream media are profit making entities and this makes them to concentrate on topics that will sell quickly. As a result of this fact, issues that concern the youth like education, homelessness, discrimination among others are not taken into consideration, as focus is given to sensational topics in the society such as politics.
This mutual relationship between the audience and the mainstream media has necessitated a representation of the youth that gives a picture of a confused group without any positive aspect worthy noticing (Richards, 2011 p. 21). The youth are, thus, seen as troublemakers, unlawful, drug addicts, and apathetic in the matters that concern the society. Studies have shown that this form of presentation has deeply been internalized by the members of the society to the extent that it has become normal. In fact, the audience expects to read something about drug addiction among the youth.
Youth Representation in Alternative Media
According to Wortham (2011, p. 9), youth are faced with a lot of challenges that need to be genuinely addressed. Such challenges include lack of employment and workplace exploitation. Most of the issues that the adults consider as inconsequential to the youth are of great concern since they not only affect them now but are most likely to do in future. For instance, the issue of environment is of great concern since if the environment is destroyed, it is the youth who will suffer in future. Herbert (2001, p. 8) observes that the efforts of the youth to add their voices to the issues that are important and of interest to them have been dismissed by the mainstream media. The youths have, therefore, been forced to divert their focus to the alternative media in order to be able to address their issues.
Through alternative media, the youth have been able to hold forums, in which their views are addressed and given to the society (Nichols & Good 2004, p.10). This is a departure from the conventional mainstream media, where the journalists in newsroom decide what news is. However, alternative media have changed this approach with youth from any part of the world being given an opportunity to contribute their views to solving problems that affect them. With alternative media, instant communication and interaction among the youth is made possible through communication channels such as social networks and blogs.
Nakkula et al. (2010, p.7) observes that alternative media have also been embraced by the youth because of the technology that is available. For example, blogs and websites are being used by the youth to address the issues of poverty, unemployment, environment, discrimination, education among others. Alternative media are effectively bridging the gap that mainstream media developed between different segments of the society. For instance, the Youth Media Corp in the United States, which brings together the youth to interact with the society at a higher level through education, has greatly helped in solving the issues affecting the youth (Youth Development Network 2004, p. 1). As an alternative to the image of the youth, Everett(2012, p.2) observes that these alternative media are under the control of the youth themselves as they are the ones who set the agendas and articulate them according to their needs.
Everett(2012, p.4) further observes that through alternative media, the youth can address problems that were previously neglected by the mainstream media. Alternative media have empowered the youth to address such issues as poor education and poor education facilities, the impacts of globalization, peace, war, and relationships with other countries. Most important, the alternative media has secured opportunities for the youth to redeem their image through music, art, and sports.
Equally important is the fact that alternative media provides a platform for the youth to explore their talents, especially in the wake of technology (Youth Development Network 2004, p. 2). Contrary to the mainstream media that measure success on one’s achievement, alternative media empowers the youth with various options of success. This is important in empowering the youth because some of the youth could not manage the conventional way of achieving that is popular with mainstream media.
In conclusion, the write up has discussed the representation of the youth in mainstream and alternative media and how it affects the youth in Australia and the rest of the world. It has made it clear that youth representation in mainstream media is biased and has rendered the youth powerless. Most of the information about the youth coming through mainstream is negative in nature, as they are majorly focused on serving the interest of the media house and the adult audience. This representation of the youth as apathetic, unlawful, and criminal has been reinforced by the myths and stereotypes that are held about the youth. However, the alternative media riding on the wave of technology is changing the way the society view marginalized groups such as the youth. It has made it possible for youth to be able to address the issues that are of concern to them from wherever they are and this is transforming the way they interact not only with themselves but also with the society at large.