Don’t fix what ain’t broke, a Millennial’s view from the passenger’s seat

By Zach Garner, SPJ Region 3 intern, SPJ student member

If there’s anything my mother has taught me in my 22 years on this Earth, it’s how to tastefully dance around the word “old”.

That and a family recipe for some sugar cookies that will knock your socks off.

Or renew your faith in God.

Whichever comes first.

Not unlike the word Millennial, the word ‘old’ tends to carry a negative connotation in today’s society. Yet, ‘old’ is often associated with being outdated, decrepit – taking up space. I disagree.

Old cell phone copyThink of the evolution of your cell phone. We often refer to the old model as the lesser of the two; the model that doesn’t quite match up anymore. The new shiny models always advertise SPEED, efficiency and all the bells and whistles.

The funny part?

They both have always done the same thing.

The purpose of the cell phone hasn’t changed from 40 years ago. The way the messages are carried and how we interact with them have changed, but the core concept is the same.

The benefit of using those old brick phones was functionality. You want to call someone? Great. That’s literally what the original cell phones were made to do. You type in a number- you make the call.

They also doubled as a bludgeoning device, if the situation called for it.

Talking on new cell phoneToday, when someone is frantically looking for their phone stowed in a pocket, they are not necessarily aware of why they are looking for it in the first place. To some, it’s an alarm clock. An iPod. A source of entertainment.

First and foremost, it’s a phone. And the apps, text notifications and services offered by these little pocket genies are extra features.

Remember, the bricks of the past and the pocket genies of today do the same job. Just differently.

Venn diagram
Venn Diagram

In journalism, Millennials are quickly approaching the middle portion of our Venn Diagram and the two generations from two radically different times are meeting in the workforce. (See diagram)

As much as I’ve been advocating for my own generation, the same has to be said for those who came before us. Sometimes, the older way of doing things isn’t necessarily the wrong way. The same goes for the fact that new isn’t always better.

The mix of the old and the new has exciting implications.

Here are four things Millennial journalists can take away from older generations of journalists:

No. 1:  Experience

Walking into this profession, I, like those who came before me, will have a chipper attitude, a burning desire to do good and little to no idea what I’m actually doing.

I mean this partly in jest.

Experience and knowledge artI know what I’d like to do and I’d like to think that I have the skills to do so effectively. What I don’t have is any industry experience, and I’m not alone.

Millennials entering the workplace for the first time are doing journalism work for, potentially, the very first time.

What older generations offer is decades of experience.

What’s worked in the past? What hasn’t? Where’s the best place to get coffee after midnight?

Someone who has been working in the field will know the answers to these questions. They can offer lessons they learned along the way when they were our age.

Millennials entering the workplace should take every opportunity to pick the brain of anyone who has worked in the field before them.

Every teacher initially had to learn from someone.

No. 2:  Depth of knowledge

I can personally tell you, with confidence, that I don’t know everything about anything.

I’ll let you digest that for a moment.

That’s not to say that I don’t have depths of knowledge in particular areas. I’ve played baseball for 16 years of my life – odds are that I may know more about the game of baseball than someone who hasn’t actually played.

Journalism covers every avenue of life: health, science and technology, international politics, racial tensions, men’s health, police and fire. Kim Kardashian. The list goes on and there is always going to be surprises.

knowledge icebergRegardless of what you cover. Every topic has depth and every topic will have layers to unfold.

Someone who has been covering police and fire for the past 20 years of his/her life may have a pretty good idea on how the system works. Who knows the most on a certain subject — the experts? What is a police docket and where do I find one? What does it exactly mean when an official says “no comment”? How do I handle information about a minor?

Yes, Millennials are the younger generation, at least for right now. We are new to the field. The first thing we need to do is build that knowledge.

Expertise doesn’t come overnight, however.

No. 3:  Patience

In a world of instant gratification and 4G coverage-anytime, anywhere – my generation has grown accustomed to living at a particular SPEED.

Society, as a whole, is moving faster toward this breakneck pace.

I can get what I want, when I want it. We all can. All of the time.

As a result, we seemed to have grown up even more impatient than ever before.

Cracked egg

If I have to wait for over 15 minutes for my Uber driver to show up – who, may I remind you is a stranger you hire through an app to drive you like a private chauffeur – that is considered an outrage.

What my generation needs to learn is patience – a way to take a step back and exhale.

Not every source will pick up the first time and sometimes leads may not lead, well, anywhere.

At least not right away.

What I hope Millennials can gleam from older generations is how to slow this world down for a moment and learn a sense of stillness amongst the flurry.

Good things come to those who wait.*

*This phrase has been used in both Guinness and Heinz commercials. Beer and Ketchup makes up roughly 90% of American culture so you know it’s legitimate.

No. 4: Reassurance

As my favorite philosopher, Forrest Gump, once said: “Shit happens.”

Sources will cancel. Calls will be ignored. Stories may not pan out. Your story may not make the front page. Your story may not get published at all.

And that’s okay.

We all need someone to tell us “it’s okay” when we fall. Someone who can tell us about what they did when they made the exact same mistake at our age.

There’s one thing Millennials will share in common with older generations: it’s that in time, we can all say, “we’ve all been there.”

It is understood that we grew up differently. Nothing can change that. We may have conflicting ideologies and we very well may never fully understand each other. It is called the generation gap.

Reassuring handsWhat we can do is carry each other along the way? Help brush the dirt off. Offer a hand to those who have fallen down and remind them that they can always get back up. The old and new will achieve far more if we work together.

In the end, it is about eventually passing the torch to every new generation. Just right now that generation is those Millennials.


Zach Garner

Zach Garner is a senior at Washington State University studying Journalism and Media Production. In May, Garner will be receiving a bachelor’s degree in communication with minors in philosophy and psychology. “I am a run-of-the-mill college white guy.”