engaging our youth

katie lamb

My dad thinks I am killing the environment. Every telephone conversation goes like clockwork. My generation is not doing enough. We are blind to the consequences of our actions. We are wasteful and selfish. We don’t vote.

But we are educated, have opinions and like to spend money.

Magazines know my generation is difficult to target, and often struggle with reflecting our issues and concerns. They know we face a different world than generations before us.

They are desperate to know what makes us tick.

Derek Webster figured it out.

“I looked around the Canadian newsstand and I had a feeling that there weren’t any magazines that I would be interested in reading. There wasn’t much to offer that was high quality.” His solution: Maisonneuve, a magazine that is able to strike a cord with 18 to 30 year olds. Its diversity of articles, from covering Jordan’s brothels to the winners of a Creationist science fair, balances intelligent, informative features with humour and irony.

Webster started Maisonneuve, which he describes as Vice meets Harper’s, three years ago. He is both editor and publisher of the Montreal-based youth culture magazine, and knows readers want a magazine that provides a “literate and visual experience to delight, educate and entertain people.”

For Alice Klein, editor and co-founder of Toronto-based Now magazine, the same void existed in the industry 23 years ago when she started the weekly magazine. “We and our generation were not represented in the media,” she recalls.

Along with social commentary, Now offers readers the latest in the city’s arts and culture scene. When it began, “it was the beginning of the Queen Street music culture, heyday of local politics and anti-expressionist movement,” says Klein. Today it remains the voice of Toronto’s urban hip.

Publishers such as Klein and Webster recognize apathy and selfishness are not apt descriptions of today’s youth.

Ken Alexander, editor and publisher of The Walrus, recently lectured on the notion of political disenchantment among young Canadians. In his eyes, they cannot be blamed for their lack of engagement in politics because Canada has not seen robust political discourse since the establishment of the free trade agreement in 1994. “There are one-and-a-half or two generations of people who haven’t seen an activist state,” Alexander said. “They have seen a reactive state . . . one that claws back. They are just sort of wondering what it does.”

Webster articulated a similar situation. “The problem is not having as big of a stake in what older people feel they have a stake in,” he says. For example, young people tend not to use the health care system as much as older people and, therefore, do not have as strong an investment in it.

Webster explains that what was tangible for generations before is not part of my reality. “Young people are in tune with the reality of their situation.”

By their mid-20s, most of my parents’ generation were married, had a house and children. That life is not something I am ready for yet or even desire.

To attract young readers, you have to engage them. “How do they expect young people to be interested in something if nobody is asking them?” Webster asks.

“The people who create Maisonneuve are all of the demographic it wants to reach, so it has first-hand knowledge of what the cohort is interested in.”

In April 2005, CanWest Mediaworks introduced Dose, a daily publication for young readers. For publisher Noah Godfrey, Dose’s shtick is similar to that of Maisonneuve and Now. It is “ made by young Canadians for young Canadians. Dose's creators all have an intuitive understanding of our audience . . . Dose will be everywhere our audience lives, works and plays.” 

For a generation bombarded with commercial magazines and messages, connecting my demographic to issues of importance is a challenge for the magazine industry. Maisonneuve and Now cling to the belief that young people will engage in what’s important to them, knowing there is no formula for guaranteed success.

But for Klein there is no one trick to understanding Canada’s youth. “We don’t see things in that simple a way. It’s hard to reach a print audience – it’s endearing, frustrating and challenging.”

Photos by Katie Lamb