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About Radio NZ's new "millennial" venture, The Wireless

by Megan Whelan

Much is made of how awful, lazy and self-obsessed Millennials are. They are apparently fickle and flighty and have no attention span. They’re obsessed with celebrity and politically disengaged, and care more about instagramming their lunch than they do about the big issues. They’re entitled and delusional.

But they’re facing huge issues. Personal ones like how to save enough to buy a house or have a family, and then retire. Like illness and immigration, and what to do next in their lives. Relationships and employment. And broader issues like the economy, climate change, poverty and crime.

One young Aucklander told researchers for The Wireless and Colmar Brunton he is worried about “human rights - we live in such a bizarre world, structured by systems that exploit its inhabitants. I am concerned with issues of structural poverty and believe that everyone … should be given the same opportunities.”

Another, a Pasifika student, said she is worried about the state of the world, “as everything is looking pretty despairing re unrest, discontent, economies in recession, high unemployment, environment being trashed, climate change, natural disasters.” She said it is easy to become quite negative about what the future holds. “Especially when we will also be expected to pay more taxes to support an older population.”

Though finding information has never been easier, it has arguably never been more important for that information to be accurate. A 2011 study found 89% of survey respondents, aged between 13 and 24, indicated that they learn about sexual health-related issues online – just a few more than the 83% who ask doctors or nurses. And, sure, if they’re accessing good information from a credible source, then that’s great. But it’s not so good if they’re crowdsourcing on Twitter which contraception to use.

Whether old-school journos like it or not, Twitter and other social networks are where “digital natives” are getting their information. They don’t care about the mastheads, they want their news shared from people they trust. And a market research firm called YPulse reported that two-thirds of Millennials think, even then, the information they’re getting can’t be trusted.

Here at Public Address and elsewhere, the media’s inability to adapt to a digital world, and to continue to deliver important journalism is referenced often. In the clamour for voices, it can be hard to distinguish what’s real. In the wake of this year’s Boston bombings, nearly a third of “relevant tweets” were rumours or fake information. Only 20 percent were real, accurate facts.

One young Aucklander told researchers “I use news websites such as the New Zealand Herald, BBC or CNN. The information presented on these websites I always take with a pinch of salt because I know that the media is not the most reliable source of information.” Another said “I get most of my information from the news, but I think it’s important to realise that this source of information can have some bias”.

That’s where we come in. The Wireless is aiming to tell entertaining, informative New Zealand stories for those people that have grown up in the digital age. We’ll tell their stories without advertising, without shying away from controversy, and with all of Radio New Zealand’s core ethics of accuracy, fairness, independence, respect and diversity. Radio New Zealand has an obligation to serve a wide range of interests, and all age groups. And while there are parts of the organisation who do that last part well, only a small percentage of its audience are younger listeners. The Wireless is reaching out to them.   

So here we are. We’ve been a long time coming. The Wireless grew out of agitation for a non-commercial youth radio network. That ship has probably sailed, but there’s still a need – more than ever - for quality, public service media for 18-30 year-olds. Ish.  And in the age of graph search and targeted advertising, not only are we not selling anything, we’re not taking anything from them either.

We’re a small team, and there are only so many hours in the day. But we have plans and ideas and ways to make The Wireless grow and evolve. So far, indications are that there’s a niche to be filled and we’re excited to be finally live to share some of these great stories. More are coming. In the meantime, there are always GIFs. 

 Megan Whelan is a senior producer for The Wireless, Radio New Zealand’s new online venture for the so-called “millennial generation”. 

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