This is your semi-annual reminder that “but, the New York Times does it,” is not a valid argument for your journalism outfit’s reporting practices.
On Saturday, The New York Times continued to report on 80 million millennials as if they were one horrible person, with an op-ed clearly published to incite a reaction (read: increase page views). The piece is what passes as a scathing indictment these days, of Mic.com—a media company with 30 million unique monthly visitors, and a higher composition of 18 to 34-year-old readers than any other news site, including BuzzFeed and Vice—to which the writer (Ben Widdicombe) simply referred to as a “website.”
In it, Widdicombe likens the office to “a middle-school fraternity house,” and reduces its educated and accomplished female employees to having “cute outfits,” and vocal fry. He condemns the practice of allowing staff to eat when they are hungry, speak when they have an opinion, and redefines “self entitlement” as expecting your employer to observe and respect your Islamic beliefs. Ironic that he tries to paint a millennial publication as childish by making fun of how the staff looks and talks.
The biggest LOL comes when Widdicombe informs readers to the apparent existence of a consulting firm called “Why Millennials Matter.”
And while one can’t help but picture Widdicombe as an old man shaking his fist at the sky, as you read his words, the piece isn’t without merit. Significant attention is given to one particular instance of millennial malpractice. The offense: Mic’s director of programming, Joel Pavelski, first, lying about the death of a loved one in order to get a week off of work; second, writing a personal essay about doing so, in order to go build a tree-house; and, third, tweeting out the link to said essay for the consumption of all his coworkers. While I don’t appreciate the insinuation that millennials invented lying to get out of work (have you seen Office Space?), Pavelski’s choices are ill-conceived at best, and justification for being terminated by his employer at worst. It’s not so much that Pavelski lied, it’s that he blatantly admitted to doing so, and proceeded to rub it in with the first line of his essay of omission, reading, “I said that I was leaving town for a funeral, but I lied.”
The essay in question, titled “How to Lose Your Mind and Build a Treehouse,” is a beautiful introspective into what it’s like to admit to oneself that you are suffering from a psychological illness. That being said, Pavelski went about all of it the wrong way, and I’m genuinely surprised he kept his job when all was said and done.
But, maybe what the takeaway of the New York Time’s piece should have been is that behavior has nothing to do with someone’s generation, but with the kind of person they are in general. And maybe baby boomers are just angry because the word “millennials” sounds like superheroes and “baby boomers” sounds fucking ridiculous. Who knows? Regardless, it’s important to keep in mind that the case study (for lack of a better term) of Pavelski, and that of everyone mentioned in the editorial, is simply anecdotal, and not evidence of any factual generalization to be made about Generation-Yers.
A better use of the resources that the New York Times has at its disposal (and their unhealthy obsession with people under 35), would have been to investigate actual problems facing millennials. This month alone, The Guardian and The Billfold published pieces identifying seniors—universally seen as the most vulnerable and worthy of sympathy in our society—as being better off than millennials (as did Mic), with the average person under-30 with less income than those aged 65–79. Widdicombe could have profiled millennials of color or the working poor or those with little or no college education. He could have looked into how and why “millennial” has become shorthand for upper-middle class, educated, often white youth—and what we lose by ignoring others in that age demo—but, he didn’t, and that is the article’s inherent problem. Combined with a string of similar and recent NYT articles painting Millennials as lazy, entitled, and in need of hand-holding, it feels like another occurrence of traditional media unaware of how to stay competitive against new media, and instead of seeking advice, is relying on clickbait to secure readership.
Sidenote: Is it too early to start mocking, criticising and shaming toddlers for being even less responsible than millennials? Oh man, cue foreshadowing of the nasty think pieces we’re going to write about the Generation-Z/Space Children of tomorrow, in a decade from now.