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Why are young people so badly portrayed by the media?

Why do young people get such a bad press with negative stereotyping?

Move over football, we now have a new national sport - talking down young people and it's more popular than ever before.

When it comes to young people...bad news is good news for newspapers.

If you were one of the hundreds of thousands of young people waiting for exam results over the summer, you'll know exactly what we mean by this. You couldn't but help notice the headlines at the end of August- "Exams are getting easier", "A Level papers easier than O Levels".

In a few short words, the status and value of school exams, not to mention the effort put in by young people across the UK, had been totally undermined.

If GCSE students have been reading the "dumbing down" comments, who knows how many may have changed their mind and abandoned their education. Lets face it, who wants to take on two years worth of work to have their efforts so easily dismissed by statistics?

The negative way in which the press reports on exams is sadly something we've just come to expect. But what a lot of young people don't realise is that it's not just education where our achievements are diminished by the media.

Just a few weeks ago the newspapers were filled with reports on the "shameful state of the nation's teenagers" - "our 15 year-old girls lead the world in boozing, obesity and taking drugs" claimed one tabloid. In 500 words the journalist writing the piece managed to convince the newspaper's readers that all teenage girls in Britain were overweight, slobs, who spent hours slumped in front of the television drinking Alco pops and smoking drugs.

The two case studies putting across a young person's perspective on the issue were only worthy of a small box in the corner, overshadowed by the bold headline.

But this kind of reporting is not new. In the past some newspapers have even gone so far as asking their readers to "shop a yob".

"Almost all of the publicity that the media gives to young people is negative," admits David Seymour, the Political Editor of the Mirror group. And when it comes to young people's issues or worries, he says:

"The actual amount of space given to the concerns of young people is very, very little indeed. When you consider the many millions of young people out there with ideas who want to find a place in the world, the media's absolutely not reflecting that at all."

As a young person you can't help but question the attitude of large media organisations when you consider that we are tomorrow's newspaper readers. With print media losing consumers rapidly, a negative attitude is simply not good business sense.

Steve Barrett, the Editor of Young People Now, believes: "If newspapers can't prove their relevance to young people, this trend will continue."

"If young people don't recognise the portrayal of themselves within the media, why should they trust stories about other subjects?" he adds.

So why do the papers portray us in such a bad light? Speaking at a recent conference on how the media treats young people, David Seymour explained:

"Papers are commercial organisations and they're always looking at what will sell the paper, although obviously there's a social and political responsibility as well."

When it comes to young people, Steve Barrett feels simply that "bad news is good news for newspapers."

This attitude varies from newspaper to newspaper, and David Seymour acknowledges this: "Some newspapers aren't interested in young people having a voice, because either it doesn't fit in with what they're generally writing or saying, or because they don't even think it's an issue."

This means that the media is able to dictate the type of opinion that the nation has towards young people, allowing the relationship to deteriorate further.

Jimmy Tam, 20, who has done work experience for many news corporations such as Channel 5, the BBC and Sky TV, believes that the negativity that surrounds young people in the media is due to the media's inability to approach teenagers:

"I think that a lot of journalists find it hard to access young peopleā€¦a lot of people do want to consult young people, but they don't know where to go".

"When journalists are on a tight deadline, they don't always have time at their disposal."

It is understandable that journalists are under pressure to deliver stories, but surely more could be done to prevent an entire age group of the population becoming alienated. But what?

The bottom line according to Steve Barrett is that young people need to prove to the media that they are a valuable audience "worth courting".

He adds: "They must lobby media outlets for fair coverage. Within their youth groups and individually, young people can submit stories and build relationships with the media".

Steve Barrett is probably right in his assessment, but this is still an astonishing attitude when you consider that the number of young people in Britain between 10-19 makes up 12.8% of the population. I'm sure the 1.9% of the population that represent people over the age of 80 would not be asked to stand outside the BBC broadcasting house, to prevent stereotyping.

In Jimmy Tam's opinion: "It is hard for young people to get work in the media. It's a catch 22 really because you're young, you're still at school and you might not have the experience you need."

"Young people don't get much opportunity to express themselves in a positive way because as a young person, you are still learning, and still trying to develop, so it's your chance to make mistakes, and learn from them. I think people pick up on these mistakes more than on the good things that young people do".

It's timely then that a number of media organisations in the UK are getting together to support a campaign aimed at changing the way in which the media portrays young people.

On October 12, the Positive Images campaign will be launched at Westminster. It's supported by a number of adult journalists who like many young people, believe that we're not being treated fairly by the media.

Lets hope this campaign makes a difference. The adult media in this country has spent far too long convincing people that we're useless, good for nothing yobs. It's about time they woke up and realised that young people do buy their papers, we do take offence to the way they write about us and we do care what the rest of the population thinks of us.

Jimmy Tam makes a very good point when he says that journalists are afraid to approach us because they don't know how, but teenagers don't bite! Pehaps they've just been reading too many of their own stories.

About the team

This story was produced by James Michael, 17. It was published by Reach for the Sky website.


completley agree
I completley agree with this and am writing an article on it
salsy from newcastle, 09 February 2010 12:04
i dont like cheese either
i have no name (age 69) from afganistan, 03 December 2009 04:26
this is....
the (age 99) from amarica, 12 May 2009 00:22