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The Wall Street Journal says it’s done being snarky AF about millennials

Nancy Miller

The Wall Street Journal has updated its stylebook. The word grandma can no longer be used in a snarky fashion. Just kidding. Grandmas remain fair game.

But millennials? That word now goes in the trigger category. “’Millennials’ has become a sort of snide shorthand in the pages of The Wall Street Journal,” the editors explain.



The list of sins includes a story about millennials being responsible for a housing shortage and for giving New Jersey developers heartburn. Then there’s the piece about that says you must be a millennial if you collect dozens of credit cards—earning enough points to pay for meals and even trips. That actually sounds smart. And the New Jersey piece is part of a larger blue state story—working folks don’t like living in high-tax states. Even if you put gyms in the office buildings.

Without much effort, you can find similar stories (if not more damning ones) about baby boomers almost anywhere. But the “me generation” (flattering label, right?) shrugs the barbs. Housingwire blames boomers for thwarting millennials from buying new homes. The geezers won’t move out. Back in 2008, McKinsey Global Institute reported boomers earned more money than any other generation but hadn’t saved enough for retirement. The hippies-turned-rapacious-bankers were busying buying McMansions and gas guzzlers.

Go ahead. Write about it. Boomers are no snowflakes.



But the real issue here is the future of news—who will read the Journal and what kinds of stories will they prefer? Millennials are the next big cohort.

Despite the millions and billions of words and dollars spent on analyzing, criticizing, mocking, and soothing millennials, people still seem confused about exactly who they are. The Pew Research Center says the first were born after 1981; Pew hasn’t quite decided when the last were put on this earth, says Kim Parker, director of social trends research at Pew Research Center. The Wall Street Journal puts it about 2000.

In any event, Pew predicts millennials will be even more populous than boomers at their peak—81.1 million vs 78.8 million. In other words, they matter. A lot. The WSJ style editors write unblushingly “millennials are an important group of WSJ readers (not to mention many of your colleagues). We risk alienating them if we write about them with such disdain.”

Disdain? When boomers were young, how did the folks who controlled the flow of ink write about hippies upsetting college campus life and coining slogans like Make Love, Not War? It wasn’t all peace and hugs. That’s the nature of news. Not that editors always get it right. “Occasionally, we’ve referred to millennials when we really meant teenagers.” Okay, that’s sloppy.

The editors go even further to suggest that lumping a 20-year cohort together is nutty. But that’s how social science research works. Boomers span 18 years, 1946-1964. Gen X is a skinnier 15 years. It’s true in any generation that the youngest members differ from older members of their cohort. On Twitter, however, a number of people feel the social scientists got it wrong. Is it that millennials are special? For them the dividing line is digital native vs the kid who got an iPhone as a teenager.

Kim Parker doesn’t see the need to re-think the cohort; besides, researchers always look within a generation to understand how life cycle and outside events affect behavior.

What makes millennials, millennials? “They are the most ethnically and racially diverse generation,” she says in a phone interview. They appear to be more in step with one another. “They share views more than people in other generations,” Parker says. “That’s off the top of my head. I’m not sure.”

Which makes me wonder: Was the WSJ flooded with complaints from the in-step generation? A Dow Jones spokesman relays: “Jenn Hicks, who co-authors Style & Substance with Bill Power, notice[d] an issue with the word ‘millennial’ over time, and, decided it was the right time to weigh in.”

When pressed for details, the spokesperson wrote: “That is all I have for you.”

No soup for me.

“Millennials don’t really like that label,” Parker says. “Part of that is they have been caricatured. They feel certain stereotypes feel don’t apply to them.”

Like being sensitive?

So speaking of sensitive, I’d like to call out one of the pieces the WSJ editors regretted: “5 Facts to Silence Your Smug Millennial Nephew This Thanksgiving. ” Way up there on the snark-o-meter. Until you realize it was a tongue-in-cheek response to a guide on how to survive Thanksgiving Day conversation from that uber popular millennial website Vox.

Ouch.

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