I’m writing this post from a spot that’s just 10 miles up the road from Parkland’s Stoneman Douglas High School. The community here in SE Florida is still being rocked by the masacre that took place here less than two weeks ago. There will be many conversations, debates, and discussions about gun violence and ownership, mental health, law enforcement, and other topics in the days and weeks to come. Ultimately, it may not amount to any real change in any of these areas, but one thing is for certain:
The Kids In America are changing things.
Sadly, there are have been been many of these tragedies here in the U.S. over the past few years. As horrific as they may be, somehow time fades all wounds (except, of course, for those directly impacted by these shootings), and life returns to some semblance of normalcy.
That may not be the case this time as the students of Stoneman Douglas find themselves empowered by this tragedy. And now they’re taking their message throughout Florida, to D.C., and beyond. It’s a reminder to those of us who were involved in various student protest movements decades ago that motivated youth has the ability to mobilize and shine the light on pressing issues of the day.
But there’s an obvious difference between the straggly haired protesters of the Woodstock Era, and these kids in Florida. As we’re seeing, Gen Z is more articulate, more media savvy, and wise beyond their years. There’s no Abbie Hoffman figures leading their protests. Instead, individual kids are stepping up, being heard, and becoming familiar faces to us, thanks to 24/7 media coverage.
These Parkland students – as well as kids from all over the country – are on board. They’re supporting themselves in ways that are remarkable, given that just a couple weeks ago, they were sending out snaps and sweating the prom.
This recent flurry of activity is reminder that this period in time in which we’re living right now today may one day be thought of as a turning point in our nation’s culture. After all these years of young people being overlooked while their parents and grandparents took the spotlight, the tables are now turning.
America’s youth are tuned in, turned on, and using their voices – in person and online – to make their feelings known about the world around us loud and clear. And much faster than years of Vietnam War peace rallies, they are seeing results. Politicians that were staunchly anti-gun reform are now rethinking their positions, while corporations are severing their ties to the NRA. Again, where we are six months from now is anybody’s guess.
The Kids In America are changing things.
That last thing I want to do in this post is get into politics, but no matter where you are on the spectrum, it is undeniable these young people are making a difference.
But it goes beyond tragedies like this one, and political protests. In fact, the other indisuptable truth is that youth are redefining an even larger landscape – especially when it comes to our world of media.
A great example is 23 year-old Omar Raja, a s major sports fan who was a student at the University of Central Florida. He recently sold his monster Instagram account, “House of Highlights” to the Bleacher Report, a portal doing battle with ESPN.
Raja started his Instagram page from scratch while still a student, and built the site up to 8.2 million users – many of whom are members in good standing of Gen Z. It was a no-brainer for the Bleacher Report to do the deal. As House of Highlights GM, Doug Bernstein – the guy who discovered Raja’s platform – explained to writer Kurt Wagner from Recode:
“Bleacher Report has always kind of been the up-and-comer to ESPN. I think we’ve made incredible progress to kind of catch ESPN, especially in the digital space. But I had reached the point where we had been at it for maybe six or seven years, where I was starting to get nervous and anxious. Who was the startup that would come up to us? Who was the one that could replace us? We had a great millennial audience, but who was dominating with 12- to 24-[year-olds]? That’s where House of Highlights came in.”
That concept of looking ahead to the next generation with both respect and a dose of healthy fear was also a theme at a Radio Days Ireland conference held last week in Dublin with Learning Waves.
This time, it was 14 year-old YouTube star Jessica Kavanagh advising veteran broadcasters on how to build and nurture an online following. Since 2015, the compelling teen video host has amassed 220,000 subscribers generating more than €1,000 a month. Not a bad income for a kid not yet old enough to drive.
What’s her “secret sauce?” Jessie’s a believer in responding to her audience, talking about topics they want to talk about. Her charge to the radio broadcasters in the audience was simple and direct: be yourself and stay honest. That’s good advice whether you’re making videos about how to create a donut bun or you’re working morning drive in Omaha.
But as we’re seeing every day on multiple screens, young media stars are emerging in unlikely places, mastering technology that is not native to most of us over 30.
Kim Wilde recorded “Kids In America” way back in the early ’80s when she was a kid. Today, she’s on the radio in Europe but her hit song still resonates decades later.
The lyric, “There’s a new wave coming, I warn ya, we’re the kids in America” predicted a tectonic shift that appears to be very much underway today – not just in the U.S., but in countries around the globe.
As an industry, we have to do a better listening to the young voices around us. They aren’t just wise beyond their years – they’re our future. We’re seeing plenty of evidence suggesting this is a trend that we’d be smart to heed.
This is why I encourage you to support industry initiatives like Conclave, the National Radio Talent System, as well as state broadcaster associations that support young,fledgling broadcasters, like the MAB Foundation in my home state of Michigan.
The Kids In America – and around the world – are changing things.
Here’s Kim Wilde’s “Kids In America” video. Get ready to “Whoa-oh.”
Jacobs Media has consistently walked the walk in the digital space, providing insights and guidance through its well-read national Techsurveys.
In 2008, jacapps was launched - a mobile apps company that has designed and built more than 1,000 apps for both the Apple and Android platforms. In 2013, the DASH Conference was created - a mashup of radio and automotive, designed to foster better understanding of the "connected car" and its impact.
Along with providing the creative and intellectual direction for the company, Fred consults many of Jacobs Media's commercial and public radio clients, in addition to media brands looking to thrive in the rapidly changing tech environment.