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Carl NordgrenWe’ve all heard the cliché; pain is just another word for opportunity. We usually think of that in conjunction with a business problem or challenge. Find a way to eliminate the pain, and you’ve likely got a successful business proposition.

But how many of us apply that to our most important asset — our people?

Most of the people in the room at the 110th annual meeting of the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association were baby boomers (born 1946 to 1964). The future customers and employees of their companies are, or will be, millennials (born in the early 1980s through the early 2000s). Nothing too surprising there, except for the cultural divide.

When asked their impressions of millennials, most of the baby boomers in the room responded “entitled.” Some said disinterested, self absorbed and more.

Carl Nordgren, lecturer, author and entrepreneur from Duke University, outlined a few of the major differences. Boomers were raised by post-war parents who emphasized self reliance, standing on your own two feet. We (yes, I’m certainly one of “them”) were focused on process, the processes upon which we could be reliant and consistent, which may have stunted some of our creative juices.

Millennials, on the other hand, “were born as creative geniuses,” Nordgren said. “Boomers have not intentionally pursued that; millennials have approached life with that intentionality. They are the first great creative generation.”

Race, the civil rights and women's movements were huge issues for boomers; millennials yawned at a presidential primary that included an African-American, two women and one white guy.

How’s that play out for us? Boomers were loners of a sort, carving out our careers in a competitive if friendly environment. Technology was a learned second language, if you will. Millennials grew up playing with technology long before they used it to do anything approaching productivity. Race, the civil rights and women's movements were huge issues for boomers; millennials yawned at a presidential primary that included an African-American, two women and one white guy.

Millennials “love to creatively collaborate, to work in teams; they are eager to be part of a team,” said Nordgren. They love each other's accomplishments, value transparency and work well in an apprenticeship mode.

According to Nordgren, the acquisition of the Washington Post by Jeff Bezos is forcing millennials to take a second look at our industry. “It’s a watershed moment.”

Nordgren’s research suggests that millennials want to contribute to society, to make a difference, to make their world a better place — not really that different from boomers who came out of the civil rights and women's movements and the Vietnam War with a mindset to change the world, to make it a better world. Journalism is an opportunity to align those cultural similarities rather than accentuate the differences. It’s an opportunity that took 40 years to present itself.

A key difference, said Nordgren, is that boomers had to focus on creating financial capital and human capital to rebuild a post-war economy. Millennals value social capital and consider financial and human capital as commodities, he said.

The opportunity — millenials “struggle with ambiguity.” Consider embracing them in a two-way apprenticeship where they take us to creative heights that we may not have been able to imagine.

What do millennials say?

Later in the day, a panel of six millennials who work for smaller news organizations offered some advice. What do they want from a news organization? What would they do if they were in charge?

  • “I want a good story, not incremental government news updates. I want the story to come to me, not for me to go to the TV at 6 p.m. to find the news.”*
  • Great customer service, convenience, something useful, a good product or service, transparency, social (media), special offers (such as BOGO).
  • Launch a full-out website and charge for it. Make sure you have a Facebook presence, Twitter presence, more apps, podcasts.
  • Supplemental products to other, diverse audiences. A more mobile-friendly website.
  • Reaffirm commitment to really good storytelling, watchdog journalism, things people care about. More graphics, less clutter, simplify.
  • Ask, "Why would someone share this?"*
  • Look at how we distinguish ourselves, differentiate ourselves. Better quality.
  • Advertising is content, too.

*Allison Ross, education reporter for the Palm Beach Post (and Missouri School of Journalism grad).

Brian Steffens  
Director of Communications


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